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    Posted by Sean at 21:01, October 14th, 2004


    I was just thinking, if I have to read another word about the mentions of Mary Cheney’s lesbianism in the Cheney-Edwards and Bush-Kerry debates, I will go bananas. Then I spun through the channels to CNN. What’s American Morning talking about? You guessed it.

    The hilarious part was the letter (it was one of Jack Whosis’s Viewer Responses to Thought-Provoking Questions segments, in this case, Do you think the mention of Mary Cheney’s sexuality during the debates was justified?) from some idiot who seems to need irony supplements. He wrote something on the order of, well, Dick Cheney thanked John Edwards for his kind remarks about his family, so obivously, you know, it was no real problem, and the Republicans are just blowing a gasket to make the Democrats look bad.

    This is one of the valuable things that the Japanese remember but many Americans have unfortunately forgotten, despite our genuine goodwill in most instances. People here still understand the concept of saying, “So very kind of you to say so,” when they mean, “Mind your own [bleep]ing business, you crass little twit!” but want to keep the atmosphere of goodwill intact for everyone else’s benefit.

    Isn’t it November yet?


    And then there are people who make up their own language to express indignation. Well, okay, these ninnies are British Commonwealth, not American, but they make the point:

    In the morning, the flight crew woke up everyone to prepare for landing at Heathrow Airport. Potgieter said that he and his partner kissed each other good morning and hugged each other as any couple would do when they wake up.

    Two flight attendants approached the pair and requested that they do “not to kiss each other as doing so was offensive to the other passengers on the flight.”

    A little later a senior flight attendant came up to their seats and told them not to kiss again.

    Potgieter said he was shocked. In his court documents he says that he experienced extreme humiliation by the conduct of the flight attendants and that he became traumatized and angry.

    As the flight touched down the men were so angry they refused to follow the flight crew’s instructions to fasten their seat belts. The crew alerted authorities that they had two unruly passengers on board.

    On landing, both men were arrested and Potgieter was held for three days awaiting an appearance before a judge. He was fined for not wearing the seatbelt, but says he suffered economic losses as a result of the detention.

    I think I understand the concept of the cause-effect relationship, but I don’t get that “the men were so angry they refused to follow the flight crew’s instructions to fasten their seat belts” construction. I mean, way to make those killjoy flight attendants wither with remorse, huh?

    And what is that “he and his partner kissed each other good morning and hugged each other as any couple would do when they wake up” supposed to mean? It is perfectly possible that the BA attendants were acting on excessive preemptive squeamishness based on seeing a locking of molten eyes, a squeezing of shoulders, and a quick peck. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if these characters looked as if they were going to start seriously making out and needed to be reminded that they were on a passenger jet and not at a play party. After all, one of the reasons people feel free to hug and kiss when they wake up in the morning is that they’re, like, alone in their bedroom.

    And can we please stop using the word traumatizing to refer to what even-tempered people are still content to call upsetting or (in pompous moods) distressing? A car accident that kills your parents and leaves you needing physical therapy before you can walk again is traumatizing. Finding out that the love of your life is slowly poisoning you and conspiring to run off with your best friend and your life insurance money is traumatizing. Being gay in a country in which homosexuality is punishable by death or torture (or maybe even just frequent police raids) is traumatizing. Being asked in rapid succession to stop kissing and put on your seatbelt is not traumatizing, even if you think it was discriminatory. Flibbertigibbets.

    How can Mary tell me what to do / When she lost her love so true?

    Posted by Sean at 15:36, October 14th, 2004

    Oh, no. Looks like I won’t be able to vote for Bush after all. The cool kids don’t want me to:

    If global opinion polls counted, U.S. President George W. Bush would be voted out of office.

    Democratic contender John Kerry was the preferred winner in the U.S. presidential election Nov. 2 by the majority of people in eight of 10 nations, according to a survey sponsored by influential newspapers in each of those countries. The poll was taken in September and earlier this month.

    Most people polled in Japan, Britain, South Korea, Spain, Mexico, Australia, France and Canada would like to see Republican incumbent Bush get the boot.

    Only in Israel and Russia did a majority welcome another four years of Bush.

    In Canada, Spain and Mexico, 55 to 60 percent were pro-Kerry, while in Australia, Japan and Britain, a little over 50 percent were pro-Kerry.

    Among nations where more pollees wanted Kerry to win than Bush, 30 percent in Japan still said they wanted Bush.

    In Japan, about 900 randomly chosen people gave valid responses on Oct. 2 and 3.

    In Japan the proportion was 50 for Kerry to 30 for Bush–less of a difference than I might have thought, actually. It seems reasonable to figure that in the other countries in which Kerry got around 50% support, Bush also got around 30%. I say it seems reasonable because that’s my sense from talking to people. My methods are admittedly not scientific, but I meet quite a few people from other countries who, while skeptical of many things about the way the WOT is actually being carried out, believe that America needs to defend itself and its interests and would be pretty wussy if it failed to do so. Some even acknowledge the part the American military does in general to make their own countries or shipping lanes safer. There aren’t as many of them as there are of lockstep leftists, but they’re there, all right.

    It’s also interesting that the two countries in which Bush got more support were those in which the populace has daily experience with trying to protect itself from murderous thugs, many of the Islamofascist persuasion.* You think…?

    No, no, of course not. Why pull for the guy who promises the crush the bad guys that want to off you right after the Americans, when you can pull for the guy who’ll make nice with your own head of state?

    One last thing:

    The poll also showed that 60 to 80 percent in most nations have a favorable opinion of Americans.

    Thanks, everyone. But I’m still voting for Bush. Just as Koizumi would.

    * I haven’t forgotten that Spain has the Basques and that trains were blown up in Madrid a few months ago. But it seems that, like the IRA in Britain, terrorist groups in Spain have only been very sporadically active for the last few years; I’ll welcome correction if I’m wrong.

    When you hit bottom, keep drilling

    Posted by Sean at 23:18, October 13th, 2004

    Oh, for the love of–I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but obviously it’s going to be big news for a while. Not that it shouldn’t be…only, given all the attention we’ve been paying to reform of the postal service lately, you’d think the last thing we’d need is a less sexy scandal. We’ve got one, though: Secret donations to a former Prime Minister by…the Japan Dental Association. At least it wasn’t the podiatrists.

    For those new to this particular item, here’s where it stood a month ago. Note the blasé presentation of this as merely an inflated version of business as usual:

    The JDA provides a typical example of “triangular collusion” among the LDP [This is not because the LDP is an especially venal party; it’s just that it’s the one that has power to peddle.–SRK], bureaucracy and industry. Its former chairman is charged with bribing members of a government panel on medical insurance in an attempt to increase payments for dental services. In April, five men were arrested on bribery charges.

    Hospitals and clinics receive payments at given rates under the medical insurance system, and revising these rates is almost always a politically charged issue. The Japan Dentists Federation, the political arm of the JDA and a major fundraiser for the LDP, contributed about 1.5 billion yen to the party’s campaign-financing organization for three years from 2000. Hashimoto, who formerly served as health and welfare minister, was the boss of LDP legislators who had close ties to the ministry.

    According to investigators, the 100-million yen check was given to Hashimoto at a private meeting with senior JDA officials. At that time, the JDA was fielding a candidate for the 2001 Upper House election. It is reported that the meeting was attended by Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general and Mikio Aoki, chairman of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, and that both confirmed the check. Hashimoto has said he “does not remember” receiving the money, and both Nonaka and Aoki have denied attending the meeting.

    How can someone not remember a 100-million yen transaction? Prosecutors must meet public expectations by unraveling the whole truth. Failure to do so will seriously damage their reputation. The purpose of the Political Funds Control Law is to “ensure fairness of political activity through public disclosure of incoming and outgoing political funds and thereby contribute to the development of democratic politics.”

    I may add to this later, but for now it seems to me to be pretty much its own commentary. (And that doesn’t even consider the fact that Japanese dental care is about as good as British dental care.)

    I must have left my house at eight because I always do

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

    Two troubling incidents from yesterday indicate why Japan’s new initiative to adapt security strategies from Israel to local conditions is coming none too soon. A man sprayed some unknown chemical in a train at a major transfer point and then melted away before being caught, and a woman decided to take slices with a knife at three people going through another big transfer station.

    Japan’s rail system is very efficient; everyone knows that. Everyone also knows about the inhuman crowding you get during morning rush hour and on the last trains at night. For the last five years, I lived right in Shibuya, within walking distance of my office. When I moved to Atsushi’s place, I was back on the Toyoko Line, commuting into Shibuya on one of the most crowded commuter lines in Tokyo (and therefore the world). Thankfully, my workday is cockeyed so I don’t have to go in between 8 and 9 a.m., and we’re just a few express stops out. But it’s hard to cram yourself onto a train with…jeez, how many people is it when I’m going in for an early meeting? Close to 75 in a car, I’d imagine…it’s hard to pack onto a train like that, in this day and age, without thinking how vulnerable everyone would be to another sarin attack or to some nutcase with a knife.

    Any city or country has special points of vulnerability created by local conditions, of course. And perfect security is impossible. I’m sure everyone who’s lived in Tokyo has had the experience of waiting for someone just outside the turnstiles of one of the train lines and suddenly realizing how many people are actually pouring out as every train arrives. You can’t really let yourself keep thinking about it or you’d go insane and start rampaging yourself (or maybe that’s just me; I’m an introvert in a big way).

    But it does underscore the impossibility of preventing all possible attacks, and the resultant need for train companies and users to know what to do when one hits. Fortunately, Japan is generally an orderly society, and Tokyo commuters specifically are well-accustomed to moving quickly away from the train in hordes without trampling each other.

    The biggest worry I can see would be an attack on one of the last trains of the night, especially on a Thursday or Friday. Those who know Tokyo will understand exactly what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t: A good number, perhaps even a majority, of commuters on those trains are solidly sloshed, and a significant proportion of those people are close to falling-down drunk. Some fast-acting poison that required quick reflexes in getting the hell out of the train and off the platform could be really deadly, especially if its absortion were accelerated by alcohol. Here’s hoping we never have to worry about it.

    Japan learns security from the masters

    Posted by Sean at 20:12, October 12th, 2004

    The Yomiuri reports that prefectural governments will be responsible for drawing up new local security procedures to deal with potential attacks, particularly by missile or terrorism. For its part, the federal government is revising its own outdated Cold War-era rulebook, with a choice of model that I find nothing short of thrilling:

    The government is following Israel’s example in compiling manuals stipulating these measures and distributing them to the public.

    Israel was hit by about 40 missiles from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. At that time, Israeli authorities distributed manuals that included such measures as having people seal windows and avoid the outer walls when inside a house or building.

    It was reported that only two people were killed by the missile attacks as a result of such measures.

    The government believes that the public distribution of such manuals will be effective in fully informing people of evacuation and other safety measures, according to the sources.

    When the Japanese tendency toward decentralization hits the post-War Japanese tendency toward rigid procedure-worship, the results are often very poor. But there’s an equally strong tradition of initiative at the village level–you can still see it in the organization of parades on festival days, which a fascinating article I read long ago posited was the origin of the Japan, Inc. corporate structure–that at its best combines group loyalty with idiosyncratic local knowledge. The new security plans are still in process, but if they really do succeed in allowing the federal government to expose the nation to the wisdom of Israel’s experience while allowing local authorities to devise the actual protocols that work best for them…well, I’ll be happy as a pig in sh*t.

    Get it straight

    Posted by Sean at 19:49, October 12th, 2004

    CNN has an interview with John Howard posted. It’s pretty much a quickie, but if you follow Asia-Pacific diplomatic jockeying, it’s worth a skim. Howard doesn’t think his close ties to the Bush administration have made it more difficult for Australia to do business with China, Indonesia, and other hotspots in these parts. The article said something else that I’d pretty much expected, but something about it caught my eye nonetheless:

    The Howard government received domestic and international criticism for its steadfast support of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, including sending troops and equipment to the invasion of Iraq.

    But the issue did not play a major role in national elections held last Saturday, with Australians convincingly renewing Howard’s mandate for a fourth consecutive term of government. (Full story)

    The linked article is from Monday, when I was busy with non-news life, so I hadn’t read it when it was posted. But given the context of the link, something jumps out very clearly when you read it:

    That caution clearly outweighed some of Howard’s less popular decisions, such as committing Australian troops to the invasion of Iraq.

    The Howard triumph may give some comfort to fellow “coalition of the willing” allies, George W. Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair, both facing imminent election — Bush on November 2 and Blair possibly in May next year.

    In Australia, Iraq has by no means been a key election issue — despite a major clash of policies on the issue.

    Howard has been a steadfast supporter of the U.S. action Iraq and committed 2,000 troops to the invasion.

    Latham had been opposed to Australia’s involvement in Iraq and had vowed to bring the remaining 900 troops base in Iraq home by the end of the year if he won government.

    But this election has not been fought on the Iraq issue, mainly because Australia’s commitment has been largely symbolic and no casualties have been recorded.

    I follow what’s going on in Australia pretty loosely, but I’d have no trouble believing that analysis–that is, that most voters were thinking about the economy and about the comparative experience of the two candidates rather than the WOT when voting. I’m moved to wonder, though, just how many times in an 800-word article it’s necessary to mention that Howard’s reelection MUST NOT be viewed as signaling approval for his WOT policies before we’re supposed to have gotten the point. Odd that the reporters don’t cite any polls about the Australian electorate’s position on Iraq, since I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some.

    What do I have to do / To get the message through?

    Posted by Sean at 16:27, October 9th, 2004

    I watched the debate with Atsushi yesterday (our time) while making lasagnes for today’s dinner party. That means I was able to stay calm because (1) the presence of my beloved has a mellowing effect and (2) I had a ready excuse to keep opening the sherry bottle. As I expected, I’m not persuaded that I should change my mind about voting for Bush.

    May I just say, though, to everyone who talks as if any of the debates so far has had a “clear winner”: Give it a rest. Unless one of the candidates actually freaks out and starts waving a switchblade on-stage, that sort of conclusion is absolute nonsense. If you need the psychological boost of thinking your man is on a tear, okay. If you need the different psychological boost of feeling secure in your convictions but acknowledging that the opposition is capable of scoring points, that’s also okay.

    But jeez. The same arch of eyebrow and rasp of voice can be interpreted as signaling “defensiveness” or “battle weariness overridden by rock-solid conviction,” depending on who you are and whether your stomach’s acting up. And the “coherence” of someone’s content, while it sounds like a more objective yardstick, really isn’t when the audience represents so many levels of familiarity with the party platforms. What does matter mightily is which clips the media will choose to play over and over on the news and yak shows between now and the election, and whether commentators will pre-label them examples of “defensiveness,” “combativeness,” or “coherence” for the viewers, but you can’t tell that from the original broadcasts themselves.

    People keep complaining that the debates are superficial–and they are–but to my mind, that’s only approaching the problem from one end. The candidates have truckloads of opportunities to deliver long, detailed explications of their policy proposals and to pick over those of the opposition. The debates involve narrating them, with posturing and gesturing and a Phil Donahue audience.

    One hesitates to say anything that might be construed, in the current cultural climate, as calling for more public vulgarity, but the problem with the existing debate format is that it’s too genteel. As Camille Paglia said about Bill Clinton’s first campaign, there are two television tests a US President has to pass to be effective: prepared ceremonial speeches, and off-the-cuff remarks to left-field questions from reporters. The debates are nearly useless because they’re carefully pitched to land in the prim nowheresville between the two.

    We’ve had plenty of chances to see and read planned statements of position. But I think the television media could have done a real service by showing viewers a compilation of each candidate’s responses to spontaneous questions, as they’ve developed over the last few months. After all, you can love or hate what television has done to politics, but you can’t deny it. Being the President means being on the world stage, on which it’s often necessary to be implacable and consistent and flexible and sympathetic, at turns or at the same time. Presenting oneself well for television is not more important than having effective measures for national security, or not overspending, or appealing to the best in the citizenry in the course of uniting it. But it matters a great deal, in a way that the debates are travestying just as surely as they’re travestying deep discussions of the issues. It affects whether Americans feel they can rally behind their leader, and it affects whether other countries we expect to be on our side in the WOT believe they’re not being cynically used.

    And before anyone brings this up: No, I wouldn’t trust the media to do an unbiased job of culling representative clips and soundbites to give the most accurate possible portrait of each candidate. If television journalists were only able to recognize that they’re as firmly a part of pop culture as Survivor, Madonna videos, and the Discovery Channel, they might learn to use the strengths of their own medium in ways that are genuinely illuminating, instead of pretending it is what it isn’t. But imagining it actually happening makes me giggle uncontrollably, and I haven’t had a sip of sherry for almost 24 hours.


    Whether John Howard’s successful bid for a fourth term as the Australian Prime Minister was a referendum on the economy or the war is sure to be nattered about over the next week (though if the American media could give short shrift to the Bali bombing a few years ago, it’s hard to imagine that this won’t be overshadowed as well, what with the debates and the elections in Afghanistan). One thing that can be said, though: Australians may not be enthusiastic about the WOT, but they’re clearly not against it sufficiently to put Howard out of office. Good on them.


    Also not likely to get much play in America: The fifth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was just held in Hanoi. As you might imagine when the states of the EU, China, and Singapore (among others) are involved, the meeting seemed to involve a lot of pledging to “take proactive steps” and “promote dialogue” about such issues as terrorism, WMDs, and the role of the UN in international disputes. Anyway, I only mention it because the Asian leaders seem to have been pleasantly surprised at the turnout from the Europeans. Interesting that America’s not the only power seen as not understanding the significance of Asia.

    Forces of nature

    Posted by Sean at 11:06, October 8th, 2004

    Hmmm…. Getting kind of boring around here. What would liven things up some?

    I know: Another typhoon! This one is set to land in Shizuoka Prefecture and to pass right over Tokyo. My luckless boyfriend, who’s lived in western Kyushu through the hammering it’s gotten this summer, has followed today’s entrant–the strongest typhoon to hit eastern Japan in over ten years, apparently–here for the three-day weekend. Luckily, the leading edge of the storm didn’t keep his plane from being able to land, though a few dozen other domestic flights have already been canceled. He just cellphone-mailed that he’s on the ground and on his way here.

    Also luckily, we shouldn’t need to grab more than maybe a liter of milk from 7-Eleven, since I made sure everything was stocked for his arrival anyway, including another Columbo DVD. I’ve already watched it, it is true, but I’ll gladly sit through at least one of the episodes again: Vera Miles and Vincent Price play the owners of rival cosmetics companies seeking the formula for a wrinkle-erasing miracle cream. Does it get gayer than that? Oh, and the murder from which the plot is generated involves vengeful Miles impulsively hitting a young Martin Sheen on the head with a microscope, her eyes wide and lip curled in that wonderful fury TV murderers always get right before they bash someone’s skull in. I know it’s anachronistic, since the show was recorded in 1971, but I see it as vicarious revenge for all of us who feel insulted by the hamhanded propaganda orgy that is The West Wing.

    Anyway, in the last few days, it’s become apparent that there are, in fact, at least a few people reading here from within Japan, so stay safe, everyone.

    Added at 11:50: Looks like I jumped the gun. I was looking at the Nikkei site and figured that if the 9:00 a.m. post said the storm was about to make landfall, it probably had by two hours later. It hasn’t.

    Mitsubishi Fuso can’t catch a break

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, October 7th, 2004

    You know, one begins to think that maybe it would be better for everyone if the engineers at Mitsubishi Fuso shifted to careers that didn’t, uh, require so much engineering:

    A seat on a bus made by troubled Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. collapsed after the driver abruptly hit the brakes, leaving a woman passenger with minor injuries, officials said.

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., which has been plagued by a clutch defection cover-up scandal, had earlier informed the government about its intended recall of the same type of buses to repair seat parts.

    That the company was aware of the problem and had taken the novel step of planning a recall before its top managers were threatened with arrest helps, I suppose. And at least this time, it isn’t the sort of problem that could directly cause a crash. (The Asahi article contains this passage: “Although Kawasoe denied any knowledge of the defects, prosecutors said otherwise in their opening statement. They said that soon after Kawasoe became MMC president, the vice president in charge of the problem advised him to end the practice of ordering secret repairs without recalling vehicles with defective parts.” I know it’s just a lack of felicity in English translation, but it suggests a Lewis Carroll-ish corporate structure in which there’s a Vice-President for Defective Products. Unfortunately, that seems to be ghoulishly close to the truth in this case.)

    Your tax yen at work

    Posted by Sean at 12:03, October 6th, 2004

    The LDP’s coalition partner, the New Komei Party, has released a position paper that gingerly revises its former position on the export of weapons. Its new approach may make it easier to relax restrictions on technology transfers to the US.


    Koizumi has been somewhat more assertive in ensuring that other proposals by his administration are realized. Or not–the article veers back and forth a lot. It also gives a good indication of the headache-inducing nature of factional politics in the Diet, which you need several flow charts, an almanac, a sextant, and perhaps a rabbit’s foot to navigate through. Suffice it to say that–duh!–the Koizumi administration is hoping that it’s posted enough higher-ups who support its Japan Post privatization plan that there will be pressure on those who don’t to fall in line.


    Finally, two consecutively-posted stories over at the English Yomiuri sum up the state of government spending with (surely unintentional?) dark comedy: Most federal ministries are bankrupt by normal accounting standards, but they are eager to maintain the amount they dole out in subsidies. (Note: The River Bureau is part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.)

    The proposal to cut subsidies is part of the Koizumi administration’s proposals for “three-pronged reform” (which is usually rendered “trinity reform,” but that kind of weirds me out). The idea is to cut federal subsidies to local governments, to lower the amount of money passing through the allocation tax system (whereby federal tax money makes a U-turn and is sent back in specified amounts to local governments), and to make up for the decreased amount of money flowing from federal to local government by localizing more tax collection. Take a wild guess why federal ministries are lukewarm on that idea.