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    We’re all gonna die! II

    Posted by Sean at 18:09, October 22nd, 2004

    The ongoing mad cow disease flap has meant that Japan is still not importing US beef. There’s talk (again) of negotiations to end the ban, but Japan had been demanding until recently that every [Another quake! This one’s milder, but I hope no one’s getting it big-time somewhere else…Where’s that remote?…Looks like there’s no worry of tsunamis, but the one a few minutes ago was over 6 on the Japanese scale at its center in Niigata. We felt it at 3 or 4 in the Tokyo area, according to the NHK map.] head of cattle be tested. Having been persuaded that the risk can still be minimized with random testing of fewer than 100% (the article doesn’t say how many fewer), Japan may be in more of a mood to negotiate.

    We’re all gonna die! I

    Posted by Sean at 17:55, October 22nd, 2004

    Enough potassium cyanide to kill 1000 people has been stolen from a professor at Kyoto University:

    Officials of the graduate school’s pharmaceutical school said that one of its professors had found a 20-year-old bottle of potassium cyanide labeled KCN, the chemical symbol, while sifting through old chemicals on a shelf Wednesday night.

    The professor kept the lethal chemical in a locked box to distinguish it from others he planned to dispose of.

    On Thursday, the 62-year-old professor asked an assistant researcher to check the box that had been left in the corridor.

    Not having taken chemistry for a good long time, I don’t know whether potassium cyanide degrades after 20 years, but I’m assuming a university would know how to store it properly to preserve it–and in any case, the professor, who’s in a position to know, sure seems worried. [Ooh, earthquake, one of those swaying ones…getting bigger…Whoa! Not intense, but not dissipating, either, and it’s been 30 seconds or so.]

    A promise

    Posted by Sean at 11:33, October 21st, 2004

    Someday, I will write an entire post that doesn’t contain a single parenthetical.

    You see if I don’t.

    Powell comes to Japan to discuss troop redeployments

    Posted by Sean at 10:38, October 21st, 2004

    Colin Powell is coming to Japan tomorrow to talk about the restructuring of US troop deployments in Japan. It looks as if the plan will be engineered through a three-step process of negotiating: First the US and Japan need to arrive at a level of “strategic mutual agreement*” to serve as a basis for furthering their shared security interests, then the concrete plan for reorganization needs to be hammered out between them. (Apparently, the order of these two steps was originally supposed to be reversed–that is, it would be decided how many soldiers would be retained in Japan, and then the two governments would talk about how best to allocate them to various needs.) And then…well, they’ll actually implement it.

    Of course, if it were that easy, diplomats and negotiators would not have a reputation for liking a drink or six, and in this case, probably the biggest potential sticking point is this:

    The objective is to finalize a restructuring proposal, predicated on the willingness of local authorities in Japan, by the end of May 2005.

    The US military is not popular in many base towns, especially those in Okinawa. This article covers the most recent arrest for sexual assault (this time by a civilian base worker who allegedly broke into the victim’s house). There was a 12-year-old girl assaulted and murdered by three servicemen in 1995. These incidents have outraged Okinawans, who tend to feel–not without foundation–that mainland Japan has been only too happy to shove as much US miltary presence as possible off on its poor southern cousins. Unmentioned, oddly, was the relatively recent notorious 2002 conviction of a USAF staff sergeant for the rape of an Okinawan woman outside a nightclub in 2001. (The Time article was written before the conviction, but I linked it because its discussion of the tension between servicemen and locals was relatively well worked-out and even-handed.)

    I’m not trying to slam the armed forces here. How to handle thousands of guys living pent up lives away from their wives and girlfriends was a problem for military leaders long before the US was a superpower. And there’s probably no way to maintain the security of, say, a crashed military helicopter without miffing the local police who come to the scene.

    At the same time, making an effort not to give locals the impression that they’re being treated with curt, secretive occupying-army superiority is not just the nice and ethical thing to do, it becomes important when negotiations of the sort that are to surround the planned restructuring take place. It’s unclear how much movement there will be of personnel to other parts of Japan from Okinawa–there’s been talk for a while of closing certain intallations there, anyway–but it’s likely that it will relieve many Okinawans and rattle many Japanese in the new location.

    * I know “mutual agreement” is redundant. “Agreement” alone wouldn’t have had the connotation of back-and-forth negotiation that’s implied by the Nikkei article, so I decided to compromise. Translation, like mutual defense agreements, is full of compromises.

    Talk to me / Like lovers do

    Posted by Sean at 23:27, October 19th, 2004

    Okay, you know, I’m a big fan of rain, but enough is enough. This is number 23, for those who are keeping count. There are already 28 dead or missing; it’s supposed to pass us here in Tokyo some time before sunrise. Here’s hoping there are no further casualties.

    Added at 23:54: And now that I pay attention, things are awfully quiet out there. Maybe the worst is past already? From what the news says, Utsunomiya is still getting rain. Doesn’t even look all that windy, though.

    Added on 21 October: This CNN article has the number of dead at 30 and the number of missing at 40; the Nikkei has the numbers at 46 and 42, respectively. As usual, most of the casualties were in Western Japan, where the jagged landscape makes landslides and the flooding of valleys an ever-present danger. And then there are the high waves and flying objects from the wind to factor in. Atsushi’s fine; his city didn’t get hit this time, but in addition to the 88 dead and missing, there were 300 injured, and no one’s begun to count the property damage and agricultural losses. They’re bound to be high, especially in places such as Ehime Prefecture, which has taken it on the chin more than once this season.

    This typhoon and the one that came through Tokyo a few weeks ago have not only been unusually strong, they’ve also been lastingly unpleasant: Neither was followed by the usual clear weather you get after a typhoon. “Probably because there’s another one in line,” everyone jokes. But we can still joke because Tokyo hasn’t had much damage or injury.

    Added on 22 October: It feels a bit unseemly to keep posting updated casualty counts, as if one were keeping score at a baseball game, but since Simon World kindly linked this post, those who are interested in what we can only hope is the final word can go to the English Asahi : 65 dead and 21 missing. That’s the worst for any single storm since 1979. And as the article points out, a lot of the soil was saturated practically to liquefaction by previous storms, so landslides were even worse this time than they have been before this year. It reminds you how fragile our infrastructure is when nature decides to play rough…though on the other hand, feats such as the rescue of a bunch of bus passengers, who sat on top of their vehicle as the water rose, remind you how fortunate we are to live in a world with such resilient systems to respond to disasters. The sun is out in Tokyo today, at least, so let’s hope there will be some respite before anyone gets hammered again. It’s not yet the end of typhoon season.

    Ups and downs in Japanese technology

    Posted by Sean at 14:36, October 17th, 2004

    For anyone who’s been sleeping too soundly, here are two reports from the Asahi that I didn’t get around to mentioning. One relates that, while Japan is pouring money into its spy satellite network, it is still overwhelmingly dependent on information actually picked up by US satellites:

    It was only after North Korea lobbed a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago in August 1998 that the government decided to step up monitoring of the reclusive state via satellite.

    Almost five years and billions of yen later, Japan launched its own reconnaissance satellites–one optical and one radar–in March 2003.

    Two more were planned to go up last November but remain grounded after the H2A rocket No. 6, which was to carry the satellites, failed to launch.

    In the past 18 months, a whopping 250 billion yen has been spent on the project. To top that off, annual running costs are in the range of 20 billion yen. In August, the government announced that another optical satellite will be launched next fiscal year. A second radar satellite is slated for fiscal 2006.

    As always, my point is not that Japan’s image as technologically advanced is a lie. It’s that Japan, like every other country, is better at some things than at others. And at the moment, rockets are not its strong suit. (Last November is not the first time one has failed to launch or had to be shot down.) As someone who loves both America and Japan, I’m glad as always that we’re helping each other out.

    Of course, America is not the only country Japan trades with, and investigators are now trying figure out exactly how measuring instruments (which can be used to make aluminum tubes–we all remember from Colin Powell why those matter, right?) shipped to Malaysia ended up in a Libyan nuclear facility:

    Seemingly innocuous but high-tech precision instruments that found their way to a nuclear facility in Libya were rerouted after being shipped directly from a manufacturer in Japan to a company in Malaysia, sources said.

    The devices included precision instruments for three-dimensional measurements, which can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

    Asked for comment, a senior official with the Kanagawa company said it “was beyond imagination” that the equipment ended up in Libya.

    A spokesman for the Scomi group, parent company of SCOPE, said it had no idea how the instruments were resold for onward export. It strenuously denied having links to the nuclear black market.

    There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the Japanese company knew its instruments were going to be routed illegally to Libya, which is good, of course.


    Posted by Sean at 13:38, October 17th, 2004

    Just mailed in my absentee ballot. Nobody here but us chickens.

    Added on 18 October: Per Janis Gore’s instructions, I decided to celebrate my ballot-casting by being an unpredictably shameless vodka martini-drinking homosexual Democrat.

    Well, okay. Those weren’t her instructions, exactly. I improvised. But I’m happy (if not entirely a Democrat). About the vote and the martinis.

    And BTW, I’m not the first gay guy named Sean Ki— to vote by absentee ballot. The “secret ballot” thing worries me a bit, though. I mean, the instructions from the Lehigh County Board of Elections did say you couldn’t talk to anyone about the process, but people don’t get in trouble for participating in exit polls, do they? I haven’t been particularly secretive about whom I was likely to vote for, at least in the presidential and senate races. I’m willing to start cultivating an air of teasing mystery around the whole thing if necessary, though.

    Old sins cast long shadows

    Posted by Sean at 17:16, October 16th, 2004

    Japan will be ensconced as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for another two-year term (the last one was five years ago). This should help with its bid for permanent membership, especially since Kofi Annan is supposedly kicking around ideas for major reform in 2005. My favorite part of the article was the end:

    There is a view in the government that Japan’s nonpermanent membership of the Security Council will make it easier for the country to gather intelligence.

    On the other hand, Japan’s status as a nonpermanent member means the country will come under pressure to make difficult decisions on a range of issues.

    Damn and blast those difficult decisions on a range of issues! They’ll be the death of us all yet. In case you’re wondering whether the Yomiuri is referring to, you know, anything in particular, the Taipei Times is a little less vague. On the other side of the Formosa Strait, The People’s Daily slyly but pointedly compares Japan’s and Germany’s respective willingness to reckon with their WWII behavior. Guess–just guess–who comes out looking better.

    The issues surrounding Japan’s bid for permanent membership haven’t really shifted much in the last several months, from what I can tell. Japan, China, and the Koreas are still dancing around each other, and the interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution is still subject to debate, though we’re not hearing much about it at the moment. Two years is a long time in diplomatic terms, though; there’s plenty of time for Japan, China, the Koreas, and the US to nettle each other in unpredictable ways. Fun for the whole North Pacific family!

    Oh, and this isn’t exactly the same topic, but it’s related: Nathan posted again the other day about what he sees as distortions in Americans’ views of the PRC. I’m not convinced by everything he says, but I am convinced by his overall point that it’s as bad to treat China as if it were still under Mao as it is to figure its economic liberalization has made its past sins all better.

    Image problems

    Posted by Sean at 15:08, October 16th, 2004

    I’m kind of finding it easier to enjoy the Kerry family’s quirks now that I’ve made up my mind about how I’m going to vote. Ann Althouse and Chris G (both Midwesterners in law at big-guns state universities, randomly enough) posted interestingly about John and Teresa Heinz Kerry, respectively. I remain unconvinced that they should be living in the White House, but I’m starting to believe they might liven up, say, the talk show industry. (I’m a pop-culture baby, so that’s not to be taken as a slur.)

    Was it Andrew Sullivan who said that he’d like to have dinner with Teresa Heinz Kerry? That strikes me as about right. The interview Law Dork cites is full of fawning questions. (To be fair, I suspect an interview of President Bush on the subject of his religious faith by a Christian writer would be, too, but that’s not the topic here.) I don’t agree with everything she says about sexuality, but her appreciation of the variety of people there are in the world feels genuine and unforced.

    (Q) I notice you told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year of your critics: “They’ve got to kill something that’s strong. What can I do? Nothing. I know who I am. My friends know who I am.” That’s an attitude that really resonates with the LGBT community, which has had to face down scurrilous attacks for years.

    (THK) I used the word “kill?”


    Wow. What I mean is that if you are not part of their way, they don’t want you to be strong. If you are strong, it will weather. And they don’t want you to weather.

    Amazing. She really, seriously doesn’t pay attention to what she says to reporters, apparently. Which I find irresistibly charming–what fun would our media-saturated culture be without mouthy, solipsistic rich people to entertain us with mouthy, solipsistic pronouncements?–but is not a quality I want in the woman who helps represent America to foreign heads of state.

    And it’s unfortunate, because I think she probably loves America as sincerely as any of us do. This interview seems to indicate what she’s been trying, in her own non-linear way, to get across through some of her more famous head-scratchers, like addressing the DNC in multiple languages. She likes variety in people, she appreciates the ability to live in ways others don’t like, and being censured just makes her assert herself more. Those are all fabulous things to think.

    But like a lot of other Democrats, she doesn’t seem so clear on when they need to be tempered. It’s understandable why someone with her personality would balk at helping her husband campaign for the Presidency. But since she decided to do it anyway, it would be nice if she recognized that she’s no longer just speaking for herself.

    Her husband has the opposite problem, as Althouse notes:

    But I don’t care that he’s really got an upper class accent. I’ve heard it in full force in the old tapes of his appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” back in the early 70s, and I find it quite charming. It’s who he authentically is, but he’s got to mask that noblesse oblige stuff to run for President. But then he lets it slip and says “EYE-ther.” If he would just be his authentic self, an upper class guy, trying to serve, being thoughtful and adult, I would probably love him. But he’s been twisted and wrung out by the process. If he does win in the end, I hope he recovers that authentic self and governs well. But he shows us every day that he doesn’t believe we want that man. It’s really quite sad!

    I agree. Kerry seems to believe that if he’s going to beat George Bush, he has to do the common-man thing the way Bush does. It’s astounding that he’s never looked at a tape of himself and realized that it doesn’t work (and it rings even more false since, with his dramatic height, he looks like Count Dracula when he puts on a dark suit and burgundy tie). Madonna and Kylie Minogue can get away with this stuff because they’re pop stars. Madonna’s self-reinvention as an eccentric Englishwoman into Near Eastern mysticism may be implausible, but its worst effect is that her music gets lame. The stakes are different for someone who wants to set policy.

    Japan’s Hemlock Cyber-society

    Posted by Sean at 22:59, October 15th, 2004

    Nichi Nichi reminded me about last week’s group suicides in Saitama and Yokosuka. The one in Saitama was the largest single group suicide in Japan ever. I hadn’t seen the Japan Times article, which centers on whether the Internet is to be blamed for helping to raise the suicide rate significantly. Agenda Bender actually asked me about it passing earlier in the week:

    Stay away from those online suicide cults.

    What’s the deal with the charcoal grills IN THE CARS, btw? They don’t sell rubber hose in Japan? Or is charcoal that much cheaper than gas?

    I’d kind of wondered that myself. Surely, if you can find the duct tape aisle, you can find the spools-of-tubing aisle. I don’t know what the unit price of charcoal is here, but it’s impossible to believe it’s not less than that of gas. On the other hand, the you-can’t-take-it-with you principle would seem to indicate that splurging on one final topping of the tank is within reason.

    I suspect one of two things. Either there’s some manga series in which the grill-fumes method was used and people are copying it (likely) or the police have started looking for suspicious ductwork connected to the exhaust pipe of parked vans in outlying areas (I can’t assess the likelihood of this, but given the notice that these suicides are getting, it strikes me as possible) and the suicide sites have begun to warn readers to avoid detection by not rigging things up that way.