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    The crazy

    Posted by Sean at 07:23, March 27th, 2005

    Ilyka Damen is one of those people I read all the time but never link. Her latest post deserves link love, though (however unfortunate the surrounding circumstances):

    Can we just for once admit we don’t know everything there is to know, not even a tiny fraction of what we need to know, about the crazy? We’re as bad as people in the Middle Ages were about the plague. Maybe someday the crazy will also turn out to be caused by something as simple as bacteria; I kind of doubt that, but I’m not ruling it out.

    My point is, we’re only a tiny step up from sending for the parish priest to perform an exorcism; we still have largely no idea how to fix this level of crazy, the “pardon me I have to go shoot my grandad now” sort of crazy. We have counselors and psychiatrists and psychologists and evaluation teams and social workers and medications and treatment plans and rehabilitation centers–but even with all that, every so often the crazy wins one. And it’s always tragic when it does, but scapegoating Prozac, bad films, and chat rooms doesn’t get us any closer to fixing the crazy.

    Americans have a real problem with this. Actually, with these, because it’s two issues:

    1. Some problems can be identified but not fixed.
    2. Some problems can be identified but not traced to a comprehensive set of finite sources.

    One of our most endearing traits is the belief that everyone is redeemable and that there’s always a second chance, but, like anything else, it can be taken to an extreme. There are plain wrong-‘uns in the world. It’s a shame that it has to be that way, given all the resources and goodwill we have available to help people, but it’s something we may never be able to solve.

    Why I like old things*

    Posted by Sean at 05:58, March 27th, 2005

    It’s common for first-year students of classical Japanese to use the 方丈記 (Houjouki: “Written from a Modest Hut”) by 鴨長明 (Kamo no Chomei: lit., “duck” + “long” + “bright”) as a text. You memorize its first paragraph, which was frequently quoted after the Kobe earthquake:


    The flow of the running river is uninterrupted, and its waters are constantly changing. The froth that floats up in its pools now vanishes, now gathers into foam, but there is not a single instance of its enduring for long. So, too, are the men of this world and their dwellings.

    Like learning Latin through Caesar or Old English through The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, studying the language of the ancient Japanese is, in many ways, learning it through their suffering. Chomei’s famous introductory paragraph has a tone of philosophical ruefulness, but there are times when he uses very similar wording to achieve a much more piercing and personal effect:


    Existence in this world is wholly a hardship, with one’s body and one’s dwelling fleeting and not to be relied on, as this [my previous discussion of the great fire] indicates. Beyond that, depending on one’s environment and station in life, the things that immiserate the heart can hardly be exhaustively cited and enumerated.

    Chomei had status as a writer and poet in his lifetime, but there was plenty to immiserate his heart: he recounts Heian Period disasters from the aforementioned fire to a great earthquake to the ill-advised movement of the capital.

    Sharing the wealth

    Posted by Sean at 00:43, March 26th, 2005

    Some comments to this recent post by Eric reminded me of something I started writing and then never wound up publishing last year. Virginia Postrel had a fascinating post on megalopolitan development in China and Saõ Paolo. The usual projected scenario (as in Rolling Stone‘s long mid-’90’s showpiece article on Saõ Paolo’s development–it doesn’t seem to be on-line, but if you’re also a former subscriber, you probably remember it) makes huge cities in developing countries out to be Black Holes of Calcutta. That is, the rural poor keep pouring and pouring in, setting off water and energy crises and flooding the job market until the unemployed occupy entire shantytowns. The argument that the sweatshop work available in the cities is the only way people can eke out a living is often given at the same time, with no comment on the contradiction.

    The articles Virginia cited indicate that desperate poverty is, of course, still a horrible problem. They also indicate, though, that (surprise!) people are not gonzo idiots. If work in the big city dries up, they can move to a thriving smaller city. If work in the big city comes with inhumane conditions, they can go back home and make do while they figure out Plan C.

    Eric’s post was about the guilty rich, but the comments I’m referring to are more specifically about our trade with developing countries:

    Money, in and of itself is not an evil thing. However, the way we have designed our free market to create large sums of money off the backs of 3rd world countries is egregious.

    For example, is it moral to buy clothing that was made from a slave labor camp in indonesia? WE don’t allow these camps in the US, because we know it’s immoral, but that doesn’t stop our malls from selling it. I buy this stuff too, I’m guilty.
    We artifically inflate prices of grains coming into the country to help our farmers, but that means 3rd world nations cannot make enough money to continue growing crops, even when that nation is literally starving to death!

    [I’m cutting the rest because the point I want to deal with has been made.–SRK]

    Posted by alchemist

    alchemist (whose comments at Eric’s I always find worth reading, though I rarely agree with her conclusions) got the following response:

    Briefly, the production of goods is farmed out to other Countries because the labor is cheaper. The laborers work in these third world Country factories because they want to – they get paid more than their other options would get them. This provides a net gain in jobs and wealth for that Country. There is no reason to pay these laborers more than the labor market will bear, and reasons not to, and reasons why it simply can’t be done [simple labor competition]. The goods shipped elsewhere become cheaper, holding down prices of competitor products, making currency more potent and actually stimulating greater production. Standards of living increase in the involved Countries. No one is taking profits off the back of the poor. Risk takers and organizers of the whole enterprise need the reward to even try it and keep the businesses in business. Marx was wrong.

    Posted by J. Peden

    I’m a supporter of free markets like J. Peden, but I do think people such as alchemist have a point when they note that reality isn’t a shiny and happy as his (her?) outline above makes it sound. Children have worked to contribute to family welfare since time immemorial, so I’m not against child labor wholesale (an issue alchemist addresses in a later comment). Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to find ample evidence that children who work in Third World production facilities are often treated worse than First World livestock. While such treatment is carried out by well-connected and ambitious locals, we are, in fact, subsidizing it by buying the products it yields.

    There are other questions to be considered, though. For one thing, while the PRC certainly has a pronounced strain of draconianism, it is notoriously bad at enforcing laws like safety standards at the ground level. Suppose it passed child labor laws–could we reasonably assume, even if it had the best intentions, that it would be able to enforce them? There’s the fact that China has over a billion people, there’s ingrained corruption, and there’s the increased mobility that comes with the beginnings of prosperity. The countries of Southeast Asia may not (except Indonesia) have such huge populations, but they certainly don’t lack for corruption and fly-by-nights.

    Another question is, Does funding sweatshops actually make it possible for them to maintain their exploitative practices without end? There’s evidence that it may not. Rural areas start to become richer (or, given where they started out, less poor) as more wealth comes into the economy, as J. Peden said. And once sweat shops become common, word starts to leak back to rural areas about what really goes on in them. People begin to decide that they might be better off staying on the farm. And factory owners have no choice but to make the work more attractive to employees.

    None of this works perfectly. First World economies have plenty of exploited workers, too, after all. The problem is, in order for our wealth to help the poor elsewhere, it has to get to them. For that to happen, either we give it to them as a gift, or they produce things of value that we want to buy. In the first case, we have to hope against hope that powerful family and cronyist networks don’t siphon it all away as it trickles down to the village level, or waste it on vainglorious public works projects that no one can actually benefit from. Yes, there are wonderful direct-aid organizations with hands-on programs that help real people, but one of the things that seem to prevent them from being taken over by greedy opportunists is precisely that they do slow, un-flashy, long-term work in a small area. That’s a genuine economic contribution, but it takes a long time to show its effects on the grand scale.

    In the second case, we have to trust that the increased choice of newly available work will give them more control over their lives than they have now. While that mechanism doesn’t work perfectly, it offers a short-term alternative to subsistence farming and the long-term possibility of a greater number of opportunities.

    We’re all gonna die! VIII

    Posted by Sean at 22:16, March 25th, 2005

    The World Organization for Animal Health (for which the acronym is OIE–which, in addition to its long Japanese name of 国際獣疫事務局, makes it look as if there should be an Epidemiology in there somewhere) is proposing relaxed BSE policies:

    The international organization OIE, which establishes safety criteria for livestock, has established a new set of standards that would broadly relax safety criteria related to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)* and is presenting them to its member nations, including Japan.

    Japan has mandatory inspection of every head of cattle, but other countries have been able to set their own standards.

    However, the judgment of the WTO (World Trade Organization), which deals with trade issues that arise between countries, is that the OIE rules are the standard. When the OIE adopts new standards, if exporters such as the US appeal to the WTO with claims that Japan has placed limitations on beef imports based on its own excessive safety criteria, Japan could be backed into a corner.

    Why, yes, it could, especially since even a cursory look at the information available on CJD (with its prefix-indicated variants, the human form of BSE, scientists think), reveals that most of it consists of “We don’t really know…” and “While far fewer than the predicted 900,000 people have been infected, it’s still theoretically possible that….” Of course, Japan’s propensity for protectionism is the stuff of legend by this point, and though citizens may cry for their 牛丼 (gyu-don: lit., “beef bowl”), it seems inclined to keep dragging its feet in lifting the beef ban.


    * Interesting side note: the Japanese for BSE is, like many scientific terms, a direct translation: 牛海綿状脳症 (gyuukaimenjounoushou: “cow + sponge [as in, a member of the animal phylum Porifera, though the kanji sequence is literally “sea + cotton”] + form + brain + disease). They also, like us, informally call it 狂牛病 (kyougyuubyou: “mad + cow + disease”).


    GayPatriot says goodbye

    Posted by Sean at 21:27, March 25th, 2005

    Whoa. Through Gay Orbit, I see GayPatriot is cutting himself off from the blog he started:

    For personal and professional reasons that I am unable to fully discuss, I have to stop blogging as GayPatriot effective immediately.

    I agreed with GP’s conclusions about 99% of the time, but I thought his reasoning was frequently sloppy and cagily selective; the few times I linked him, it was mostly to take issue with his line of thought. At the same time, he really poured himself into the worthwhile task of making conservative and/or Bush-supporting gays visible in the blogosphere, and it worked. He can be proud of that. Like his other readers, I wish him the best and hope this move wasn’t the result of some kind of threat. (BTW, GP West will apparently keep running the blog.)

    Old flames

    Posted by Sean at 23:59, March 24th, 2005

    This is probably on-line at the embassy website, but I don’t feel like looking it up. Anyway, this is for your own good, so BE WARNED!

    Lighters Prohibited At Airport And On Planes
    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that all lighters will be prohibited from sterile areas of airports and onboard aircraft beginning April 14, 2005. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires that “butane” lighters be added to TSA’s Prohibited Items List.

    After carefully evaluating the security threat, Congressional intent and operational considerations, TSA determined that passengers should be prohibited from carrying all lighters on their person or in carry-on luggage in the sterile areas of airports or onboard an airplane. The policy will be fully enforced beginning April 14, 2005. All lighters will be banned from sterile areas beyond security checkpoints at airports. This includes, for example, butane, absorbed-fuel (Zippo-type), electric/battery-powered and novelty lighters. [That’s for you Epsilon-minus semi-morons who can’t figure out that “all lighters” includes all lighters.–SRK]

    The Department of Transportation classifies lighters as hazardous materials and prohibits them from being stowed in checked baggage. TSA will dispose of lighters brought to checkpoints. Passengers at some airports may be able to ship them via a private company for a fee, but TSA strongly urges passengers to thoroughly inspect their carry-on and checked baggage for these items before going to the airport.

    See http://www.tsa.gov for additional information.

    Thanks. I feel much safer. Especially since some of our security checkers can’t seem to detect anything smaller than a turret gun without help, particularly if it’s in a “cluttered” bag. Man, sometimes I seriously think we’re doomed.

    I never did believe in the ways of magic

    Posted by Sean at 21:28, March 24th, 2005

    I adore Kim Carnes’s version of “More Love” to pieces. Same goes for Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun,” though I think more people would feel the same there, if only because “Bette Davis Eyes” is the only Kim Carnes song most people remember.

    Atsushi and I listened to both while we were driving around Kyushu this weekend. I’m not much of a photographer, as you will now see; but we did get to see some satisfyingly primal sites.

    Kyushu is mountainous, and where we were, farmers were burning off the fields:


    Note the inescapable power lines in the upper-right.

    Especially while we were driving through the valley, the fires on the slopes were really breathtaking. You could see them on all sides, though, of course, it’s not as if the whole mountain were on fire. Speaking of which, we also went to the top of 阿蘇山 (Aso-san, “Mt. Aso”), an active volcano with a huge crater and steam vent:


    I love Tokyo, but, as you may imagine, going into the countryside sometimes is a nice relief and counterbalance. The cherry blossoms will be blooming pretty soon, so at least those streets with cherry trees on them will look less stark for a few days.


    Posted by Sean at 20:24, March 24th, 2005

    The PRC is once again set to send warships on a diplomatic visit to Japan. That “once again” describes “set” and not “send,” since the last view plans for maritime military visits were scotched because of the pilgrimages of high Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine. The pilgrimages are also the reason that visits between heads of state have been suspended over the last few months, so this new development could mean either that the PRC is softening its stance (possibly because Koizumi did not go to the Yasukuni Shrine over New Year’s) or that it recognizes that cold-shouldering Japan is bad policy.

    The meeting at which this was decided, by the way, took place between Takemasa Moriya, the Administrative Vice-Minister at the Japanese Defence Agency, and the Vice-General Chief of Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. He has a name, too: “bear + light + what I’m guessing is some kind of tree.” I can’t seem to find a Japanese source that has the pronunciation given (Yu Kou-kai?), or a Chinese source that Romanizes it.

    By the way, I know what 次官 means just fine, but I wasn’t sure how it was usually rendered in English. The JDA is an agency, not a ministry, but of course the Prime Minister is considered ultimately in charge. For those who are interested, this is the JDA organizational chart in Japanese, and here it is in English. Moriya is about the fifth level down.

    Island life

    Posted by Sean at 19:31, March 24th, 2005

    Japanese politicians are looking into the possibility of suing for sovereignty over Takeshima in international court:

    Former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Masahiko Takamura indicated that he believes that Japan should investigate the possibility of taking its case for the ownership of Takeshima to the international courts, saying in a joint meeting of the LDP on diplomacy, “At this point, finding and coming to a resolution of this issue between the two countries [Japan and Korea] will be difficult. We need to seek a way to communicate through a third party.”

    Most of the attendees approved of Takamura’s plan, and it seems to be set to solidify as the party’s stance.


    Debate over SDF role continues

    Posted by Sean at 07:26, March 24th, 2005

    A Diet panel (lower house) on the constitution has recommended that the SDF be permitted to participate in collective self-defense (with Japan’s allies). How that can be permitted given the constitution remains the subject of debate:

    With regard to the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, however, the panel’s opinions were mixed, with some saying the legal basis for such use should be provided in the Constitution, while others argued such use could be permitted by changing the interpretation of the current Constitution.

    In any case, the LDP’s coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito, is blocking the introduction of a bill that would change legislation governing the SDF. The bill, if passed, would have made deployments abroad regular duties (as opposed to just extraordinary measures in exigencies) for the SDF.

    What is going ahead is the plan to make SDF equipment production and management better:

    The Defense Agency has decided to establish multifunctional teams to ensure uniform control of some Self-Defense Forces equipment, such as next-generation, short-range surface-to-air missiles, from the research and development stage right through to disposal, agency officials said.

    Following private sector examples, the agency aims to streamline operations by organizing multifunctional teams for each type of equipment, bringing together needed personnel for each team from different divisions in the agency and the SDF as well as from the private sector.

    That part about lack of horizontal communication is typical of Japanese organizations. People often forget that the inefficient 70% of the economy that serves the domestic market is carried by the 30% that has to compete on international terms. If the SDF actually succeeds in restructuring to put the highest priority on getting results (which is not a given), it can only be a good thing.

    What the SDF is and is not allowed to do is of increasing importance not just because of the WOT but also because of Japan’s petition to become a permanent member of the UNSC. Kofi Annan has said that if the reforms that are put through involve expanding the number of permanent seats, two of the six new memberships will be reserved for Asia, of which “one would naturally go to Japan.” How natural it would be to have a permanent UNSC member that may not be permitted, under normal circumstances, to participate in collective defense is still a matter for discussion.

    Added on 25 March: The Yomiuri has a story this morning that itemizes the limitations on the SDF better than it did yesterday, for those who haven’t read them. When it calls these the recommendations of “the government,” though, I don’t know that that conveys what’s actually going on. This is an internal panel of LDP lower house Diet members. As the Asahi reported yesterday, the Shin-Komeito doesn’t seem to want to go quite this far right now, and that means that these recommendations may be held in abeyance for some time.