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    And we saw the sun up in the sky / We talked about it and we wondered why

    Posted by Sean at 07:32, September 21st, 2004

    The Ministry of Education and Culture is apparently doing a bang-up job of teaching elementary school children our place in the universe:

    When 348 fourth- to sixth-year elementary school children from four prefectures including Hokkaido and Nagano were asked to choose one of two options to correctly describe the earth’s relationship to the sun, only 56 percent correctly answered that the earth revolved around the sun. A total of 42 percent said the sun revolved around the earth.

    The survey also asked 720 children from six prefectures about why the shape of the moon appeared to change. Less than half of them (47 percent) correctly chose the answer “Because looking from the earth, the positional relationship between the moon and the sun changes.”

    When the students were told, “Name the celestial object that revolves around the earth like a satellite,” 39 percent answered, “the moon” while 27 percent chose “mars” and 24 percent said “the sun.”

    Now, the lesson here to my mind isn’t that the vaunted Japanese educational system is a total sham. It’s that it isn’t the perfect engine for producing uniformly informed citizens that starry-eyed (heh-heh) collectivists of all stripes would have us believe. The sample size, it is true, is not very big. Also, the researchers tested children in some of the less-affluent prefectures (though it’s possible that they went to schools in high-income areas within those prefectures–I haven’t seen). But that shouldn’t matter much if the apologists for the Monbusho are correct and the national Compulsory Education Curriculum is bringing the fruits of good central planning to all corners of the state, et c.

    BTW, I think this is my favorite part:

    The associate professor said there was a problem with the current curriculum introduced in 2000 that gives a Ptolemaic system-type explanation that only looks at the movements of the sun, moon and stars as observed from the earth. He said changes should be made when the curriculum is next revised.

    I’m pretty sure that even in third and fifth grade, we were taught by the planetarium director–in simplified terms, obviously–about the Ptolemies and the Greeks in Greece.

    And why they were…um…WRONG, even though their explanations made the most sense based on the best information available to them. Maybe Japan is saving that part for junior high school now.

    And I’d be kissin’ in the backseat / Thrillin’ to the Brando-like things that he said

    Posted by Sean at 02:01, September 17th, 2004

    Tomorrow I leave for Kyushu for the three-day weekend. Looking forward to it; it’s the first time I’ll be seeing Atsushi’s new place. The weather also seems to have cleared some after the typhoon-hammering they’ve had there this summer. Still like an oven, though, apparently. But that’s okay. Atsushi bought a new car when he moved, and this’ll be the first time I’m seeing it, too. I mean, I don’t expect to be surprised at what it looks like. He’s the kind who likes what he likes, so he basically bought this year’s model of his old car, in an even more conservative color. But that’s one of his charms. Another is that he’s big-time sexy when he’s driving.

    Unfortunately, one of the things Kyushu is famous for is tarako, or cod eggs. Friends have asked for it as an お土産 (o-miyage, a gift consisting of a local specialty that you bring from home to friends abroad or bring back for the homefolks when you go on vacation). I like regular old fins-and-scales fish, but (possibly as a vestige of having been brought up following the Levitical health laws) I don’t share the Japanese belief about seafood that the more it looks like a sci-fi movie monster, the more of a delicacy it is. However, I will be flying back from Kyushu with vacuum-packed cod roe in my luggage because…well, my friends refuse to be content with the usual tasteless cream-filled pastry that seems to be the “specialty” of most other places in Japan. One of these days, I’ll tell you about the time I bought and airmailed 50 jars of farm-made apple butter from my hometown as an o-miyage. After that experience, I decided I don’t love my friends quite that much.

    Anyway, hope everyone who’s been in the direct line of a giant storm is okay, and hope everyone else has a great weekend.


    Posted by Sean at 01:31, September 17th, 2004

    Amritas has got my number:

    “[O]ppress their own people”? The average AmeriKKKan is oppressed by the fundamentalist fascist Racist

    Items from Japan

    Posted by Sean at 23:33, September 13th, 2004

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso vehicle has had clutch failure–though this time there was no accident. The shaft detached and caused the dumptruck involved to stop in the middle of the highway, though. It was a 1984 model and, thankfully, I suppose, had a clutch that was already under recall (thankfully because it means they haven’t discovered yet another defective part).


    For obvious reasons, Hitomi Soga and her family have gotten much of the attention. But there are other touching stories among the repatriated abductees from North Korea. Kaoru Hasuike will be allowed by the law department of Chuo University to return to his studies. Hasuike is 46; he was abducted while a junior home in Niigata Prefecture on vacation in 1978. He hasn’t decided whether to go back to classes or do distance learning–understandably, there are significant readjustments he’s still making.


    More darkly, two death row inmates were executed today; one was Mamoru Takuma, who went on a stabbing rampage in an elementary school near Osaka in 2001, killing 8 children. As they always do when Japan carries out an execution, human rights groups (and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) are understandably protesting the lack of transparency in Japanese capital punishment. This Reuters story outlines things pretty well. Japanese executions take place when they’re least likely to dominate the news cycle, and there’s no prior warning. I’m not familiar enough with the way it all works to know whether the ability to appeal is really significantly curtailed; the part about not letting the families of those to be executed know until the same day does seem pretty harsh.

    Of course, the reporter can’t resist ending this way:

    Capital punishment has aroused little debate among Japanese, who are shown by polls to strongly support the death penalty, and occasional efforts to suspend or abolish it have made little headway.

    But with Japan and the United States among a handful of advanced nations where the death penalty is carried out, questions are being raised and international pressure increased.

    Unless I’m remembering wrong, a woman Minister of Justice, Ritsuko Nagao, was the one who signed the highest number of execution orders in a single year in recent history. I think it was six inmates in 1996, but I’m not finding confirmation. This was after a long stretch in which executions had been few and far between in Japan. Lately, I think two or three a year has been the norm.

    Fun with search terms

    Posted by Sean at 12:56, September 13th, 2004

    My searches are still not up to Toren‘s levels of weirdness, but the first half of September has produced a few, uh, winners. “Princesses in peril” would be my favorite were it not ten times more fabulous than my real blog name. For that, I’m simply obligated to hate it.

    I also apparently came up for “korean gay flight attendants,” my education about which has depended on a lamentably small (if promising) sample.

    There was an entry for “beach uninhibitedness.” I assume that was one of them heteraseckshals being dissolute and can only hope that my example of discreet chastity made an impression.

    Someone searched for “teresa heinz kerry only an idiot health care,” which strikes me as containing more linear logic and point than any position I’ve heard emanating from the actual Kerry-Edwards campaign.

    And I think I was most touched by “how do you detect your wife having a lesbian affair,” to which I can only say, Don’t look at me, buddy!

    But good luck. Maybe keep an eye on that friend she made in her self-defense class….

    Hope there’s room under the mattress

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, September 13th, 2004

    America and Japan are fellow travelers in more than just the WOT. If the Social Security debate has got you rattled, you might appreciate this “it could always be worse” news:

    The Nippon Keidanren* (Chaired by Hiroshi Okuta) reported on 13 September that, by its calculations, if Japan’s consumption tax is not raised [by 1% per year, it says elsewhere in the article], the balance of federal debt will reach 5 times GDP, the rate of hidden national burden (the ratio of tax and Social Insurance revenues to national income) will exceed 100%, and the government will go bankrupt by 2025.

    Contemplating my retirement planning, I’m getting a real Auntie Mame moment here. As in, Vera Charles when her friends get the news that Black Friday has made their rock-solid investments worthless: “And everyone said I was such a fool spending all my money at Tiffany’s!”

    * Its website uses the transliteration as its English name, which would translate to something like “Japan Economics League.” I should note that there’s no guarantee that it has its figures right, but that’s not all its own fault. No one really knows the extent of government or corporate debt in Japan, since rules for more transparent accounting were just put through (and incompletely) a few years ago, a decade after the Bubble burst.

    Australian Embassy bombing and Asia in the WOT

    Posted by Sean at 02:23, September 13th, 2004

    Damn. Never published this last week. The Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta doesn’t seem to be getting much play in the American press. Thankfully, there were only 9 deaths–multiple times fewer than in the Bali bombing–but there were nearly 200 people injured. Simon World makes the following point:

    What matters is what the American people themselves believe. Using the major media and the blogosphere as (an admittedly imperfect) proxy, there has been some expressions of sympathy and interest, but far broader indifference and ignorance. Instead there’s much concern over whether George Bush dodged a medical 30 years ago and whether the proof was faked. I agree it is an issue. So is John Kerry’s Vietnam record. But there are nowhere near as important an issue as what does need talking about. Where are Bush and Kerry planning to take America in the next 4 years? What are they planning to do in the war on terror? On Iraq? On helping allies like Australia? On defeating al Qaeda, JI and their ilk? There seems to be a major case of not seeing the forest for the trees at the moment in American polity. The losers are not just Americans, but the world.

    I think it’s dangerous to take the blogosphere as representative of the American public, which was probably paying as little attention to the Dan Rather memo story as it was to the Jakarta bombing. I suspect that for a lot of people, the attention-grabbing issue was the 9/11 anniversary, which was impending last week and happening Saturday.

    I generally only post on something if I think I have commentary to add, and I don’t conceive of myself as a news source (though I’ll occasionally give translations of key parts of Japanese articles). But Simon is right: Australia is an ally, it was targeted, and we should be showing support. So though it’s late, let me say that we’re with Australia.

    In a veiled way, I’ve tried to indicate when I think the Koizumi administration deserves more expressions of solidarity from Americans for its support in the WOT, too, since much of it–especially the deployment of SDF personnel in Iraq–comes in the face of a good deal of opposition. (Thankfully, while Japan has been named as a target by al Qaeda, there have been no attacks here, and the Japanese taken hostage in Iraq have been released.)

    Unfortunately, underappreciation of our allies’ loyalty isn’t the only problem; I wish Americans also had a better sense of what those allies are up against, in practical terms. The sheer number of people and shipped items that travel daily through Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai and Singapore is mind-blowing. The populations of most East Asian countries are huge, too. There was talk a few months ago that al Qaeda was setting up a cell here, probably for money laundering, and the Algerian-French man in question wasn’t caught despite being wanted by Interpol. This is in Japan, a country with Westernized infrastructure, in which non-natives are very visible and the law enforcement systems highly developed. Most other Asian countries are far less organized, and those with home-grown terrorists cannot rely on better border patrols to help screen them out. I can understand why Iraq tends to absorb people’s attention, since our own men and women are over there, but the world is a big place. Asia is probably the best place on Earth if you want to move yourself and your stuff undetected, and the evidence is that Islamist terrorists know it. Thanks to our friends here for doing what they can.

    North Korean blast not nuclear, regime tells lying foreigners

    Posted by Sean at 22:57, September 12th, 2004

    Okay, you know that mushroom cloud they saw over North Korea across the border from China on Friday? Well, we certainly heard about it here in Japan (flyover country for the DPRK’s test missiles). There didn’t seem to be much to say about it, since, unlike the explosion a few months ago, when casualties were reported almost immediately, there have been none from this weekend. It seems to be as certain as it can be that the explosion this weekend wasn’t nuclear. The DPRK says it was for a hydroelectric project. North Korea is very mountainous and has plenty of hydroelectric potential–in fact, it’s significantly more resource-rich in many ways than the South–so that’s not a far-fetched explanation. Neither is South Korea’s conjecture that the explosion might have been an accident in an underground munitions facility. In any case, the Chinese have reported no influx of the injured into their hospitals across the river, so it’s possible that it was a controlled blast with no injuries, or (more darkly) that the operation was so secret that the DPRK is not allowing the injured to be treated where they might be noticed. You never know, especially since the North Korean government would account for its actions the same way no matter which was true:

    The BBC said that when [DPRK Foreign Ministry official] Paek was asked why North Korea had not explained earlier about the blasts he told Rammell Pyongyang had not done so because all foreign journalists were liars.

    And if a double-decker bus / Crashes into us

    Posted by Sean at 22:07, September 12th, 2004

    Glenn Reynolds has decided to take a break from posting about contentious things like the election and tackle gay marriage. It’s an uncharacteristically long post, and I agreed with most of it. I especially liked this passage:

    Now, of course, any question beginning “what is John Kerry’s position. . .” is a tough one. But — correct me if I’m wrong here — the only real difference between Kerry and Bush is that Bush has offered vague support to the certain-to-fail Federal Marriage Amendment. But it’s, er, certain to fail. Now that’s a difference, I guess. But it’s not a huge one, and to me it doesn’t seem to be a big enough difference to justify the vitriol. (Kerry’s been, maybe, more supportive on civil unions, but I wouldn’t take that to the bank.)

    I support gay marriage, of course, though I’d be lying if I said it was as important to me as it is to, say, Andrew Sullivan. But if you look at the polls, it’s opposed about 2-1 by voters. What that means is that you’re not likely to see much difference between the parties until somebody thinks they can pick up enough votes to make a difference.

    I think that gay marriage is good for everyone. Marriage is a good thing, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be just as good a thing for gay people as for straight people. Judging from the gay couples I know, it would be a good thing — and I’m entirely at a loss to understand why people think gay marriage somehow undermines straight marriage. But to get there, you need to make that case, not just accuse opponents of being closedminded-biblethumping-bigotsoftheredneckreligiousright. (Andrew Sullivan made some of these positive arguments quite well in Virtually Normal, but I don’t think the tone on his blog has been as constructive of late.)

    That last sentence is tact of the most delicate. Somehow over the last few years, gay marriage went from being something to work toward, as current gay life recovered from its origins in the social upheavals of the ’60’s and ’70’s, to being something that the government has to provide right now if we’re to stop being “second-class citizens.” And, of course, it’s not just Andrew Sullivan.

    Stephen Miller has posted his own non-endorsement of Bush on the IGF Culture Watch blog:

    I wish I could support Bush, since I’m in his camp on a wide range of issues (the War on Terror, entitlement and tort reform, pro-investment tax cuts). But I can’t. He’s sold my vote to the religious right.

    Yet I won’t be voting for Kerry, with whom I disagree on most foreign and domestic policies, not to mention his wishy-washy position on topic G (he opposes gay marriage and supports state amendments to ban ’em, but claims he also opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment � just not enough to vote against it).

    That’s nice, but who does it leave? Lyndon LaRouche? Also, as Reynolds pointed out, the fact that the FMA looks pretty certain not to pass should be factored in, but few people do so. Whether it changes the character of Bush’s election-year endorsement of the amendment is an open question, but a question that has to be given due consideration. (Many gays, of course, twist themselves Tantric trying to excuse Kerry’s endorsement of the Massachusetts amendment and failure to vote on bringing the FMA to the table.)

    And then there’s the fact that the religious right is not the only constituency that opposes gay marriage. I know a number of married people who have personally, and in public, treated Atsushi and me as a perfectly “legitimate” couple but don’t believe all the implications of gay marriage have been thrashed out sufficiently.

    If I keep going, I’m in danger of producing yet another anagram of my usual gay marriage rant. That would be a dull old thing for everyone, so I’ll cut it out and just hope once more that people can stop talking past each other sooner rather than later.


    Well, okay, I would like to point out just one more tangentially related thing that’s been bothering me lately. Last week, I left a rather intemperate comment on this post at Classical Values, and immediately thought I’d been out of line and kind of panicked. Rereading it, I suppose it fortunately wasn’t as belligerent as I was feeling. But the issue (of anonymity, not of outing) came back this afternoon when I received an e-mail from Janis Gore pointing out this story, which mentions short-fused lawyer John Rawls in connection with the proposed SSM ban in Louisiana. There’s a picture of a gay couple in their living room, addressing envelopes for a drive to oppose the ban.

    You know, when I see people from little regional cities–and I want to make it clear that I’m not tarring the South here; there’s just as much busybodying in the Mid-Atlantic–who are willing to have their names and faces put in the paper in relation to gay issues, I think of these anonymous website commenters who bitch about gay marriage and the ineptitude of the HRC and hostile politicians and the meanies on the religious right and blah blah blah, and I want to backhand them.

    There are plenty of honorable reasons not to use your full name on-line–from fear of identity theft to the trade-offs you might be making to work in an environment that’s not gay-friendly. The fact remains, though, that our gains are mostly made by people who are willing to be unsecretive and take whatever sacrifices go along with that.* It’s they who are going to make things better for the gays of the future, assuming our pushy activists don’t spoil it all by issuing straight folk a new ultimatum every five minutes. For that matter, even the activists, tiresome as they can be, are putting themselves out there for what they believe, using their real identities. I don’t think there’s any ethical obligation for people posting under a pseudonym to absent themselves from discussions of gay issues. I do wish they’d show some respect and stop griping that other people aren’t doing enough to make their lives easier.

    * Especially if they aren’t among those of us who live in super-big cities where there’s already a lot of pressure on people to appear hip and gay-positive, which is why I say “they” rather than “we”

    Conversation fear

    Posted by Sean at 13:00, September 11th, 2004

    9 September is the anniversary of the opening day of the bar where Atsushi and I met. This year, for the first time in three years, I went to the anniversary party alone; Atsushi sent a congratulatory e-mail to the bar’s message board. The guy who runs the place, who along with his partner of 17 years has become one of my best friends, responded that he’s glad we’re still together (despite Atsushi’s being transferred to a distant city) and that we’ve become “like a pair of mandarin ducks.”

    This is a Japanese expression, though I suppose it might be a borrowing from Chinese. It’s usually used as 鴛鴦夫婦 (oshidori fuufu, “Mr. and Mrs. Mandarin Duck”), to describe a couple that’s settled and obviously devoted to each other. So I was touched. I was also amused enough to start my next message to Atsushi with ガーガー (gaa gaa: “Quack quack!”) under the assumption that he’d seen our friend’s post. (He had.)

    And I idly looked up mandarin ducks on Google and found this page, which made me smile. Like a lot of male birds, mandarin drakes have colorful plumage to attract mates (they shed it outside the mating season and look like the females then, says one of the sites I read, which I think is also not unusual).

    What was funny about it was that it really is what people tell us we look like as a couple. I mean, where one is decked out and the other plain. I’m not particularly high-maquillage, but I like intense colors and work in a casual enough office that I can wear them on weekdays. Atsushi works at a bank and has to dress conservatively, but–I can say this with confidence after three years with the man–he also really, seriously prefers black, white, navy, and charcoal grey. Only. He has a single (very dark) maroon T-shirt, a single (very dark) hunter green T-shirt, and a single (very dark) cocoa-brown cardigan. Otherwise, everything in his closet is a wintry neutral.

    That’s not a complaint–he has that Asian coloring that’s just heart-stoppingly beautiful in black and white–but it’s funny to go shopping and see him make a beeline for the grey clothes. Like, that’s what catches his eye. I, on the other hand, was once asked by a friend who was going through my closet for a shirt to borrow, “Do you have anything in here that’s not orange or purple? Oh, my bad! I guess this counts as magenta.” Atsushi laughingly pointed out that that’s why I have to wear khakis all the time; my shirts and sweaters don’t go with anything else except jeans.

    Anyway, I thought the picture was cute, even if we could always be snazzier if we tried. It also, being from the Meiji Shrine right here in Tokyo, reminds me that I’ll get to see Atsushi this weekend. I’m flying down Saturday morning, and we’re going to a hot spring. (No lewd jets-of-foam jokes, please; our friends have amply attended to those already. I have to say, I don’t mind that everybody’s a comedian nowadays. I just wish they didn’t all have to be the same commedian.) Just five days to waddle through first.