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    Posted by Sean at 08:06, June 9th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Only reasonable to redesignate North Korea a ‘terrorism-sponsoring state.'”

    United States Secretary of State Clinton has revealed that she is looking into redesignating North Korea a terrorism-sponsoring state. North Korea’s provocative behavior, with its further conducting of nuclear testing threatening the safety of the international community and the region, cannot be overlooked. It would be only reasonable for the Obama administration in the U.S. to shift its pivot point from dialogue to pressure.

    The preceding administration under Bush lifted its designation of North Korea as a terror-sponsoring state in October of last year. Its explanation was that, bearing in mind that North Korea would move forward with the disabling of its nuclear facilities in accordance with the consensus reached at the 6-party talks and had agreed even to inspections of its nuclear program, the lifting of the designation would encourage progress on nuclear issues.

    In order to contain North Korea’s aggression, the U.S. should work in concert with Japan and South Korea, and also firm up the sanctions it adopts individually. What are effective are financing sanctions.

    In 2005, the U.S. government designated as a target of concern related to money laundering Macao bank Banco Delta Asia, and it froze funds in North Korean accounts. It was hard going for North Korea to procure funding in dollars, and the regime was dealt a corresponding blow, but in ’07 the policy was lifted in order to encourage progress on nuclear issues. Where things stand now, the frozen assets have returned to North Korea.

    In addition to being suspected of covertly dealing in weapons of mass destruction, North Korea is also subject to lingering suspicions that is traffics illegally in U.S. dollars and drugs.

    The Nikkei is worried, of course, about what the DPRK plans to do with the two women reporters who were captured along its border with China. Amy Alkon and several of her commenters imply that the women might have wandered into an area that any thinking person would have known was unsafe, and that’s plausible, but I’m really not entirely sure. At least in the Japanese press, stories like this one are very common in my experience. (What’s common is not the economic difficulty, but the open-secret nature of the traffic between the DPRK and the PRC.) I haven’t seen any information about where the two reporters were taken—it’s not in the LAT piece Alkon links, for instance–but it’s hard to imagine “encroach[ing] on North Korean soil” unawares when there’s a river border. Maybe they were stupid and decided to push their luck, or maybe they were nabbed while still on the China side because border guards had instructions to be on the lookout for a convenient, walking negotiation tool. It’s difficult to say at this point.

    I do think that Laura Ling’s sister, freaked out though she understandably is, shows a conspicuous lack of understanding of what’s going on diplomatically here:

    “As we stand here tonight, it is entirely possible that my sister Laura and Euna Lee are standing trial in a North Korean courtroom. I know they are scared,” Lisa Ling said at a vigil at a Santa Monica restaurant that drew several hundred people.

    She also said she was frustrated with the pace of negotiations and the families have begun an online petition calling for the women’s freedom.

    “It seems so simple, why doesn’t someone in our government pick up the phone and call someone from their government? Well, that would be far too easy,” Ling said. “Right now, the only way the U.S. communicates with North Korea is through a third-party, neutral country.”

    Well, yes, and the reason we need a “neutral” country between us is that we’re sworn enemies. I hope Ling and Lee are repatriated soon, but the fact is that they’ve gotten themselves mixed up in something very sticky, especially right at the moment. We’ll have to see what concessions Pyongyang thinks it can demand.

    Added later: Naturally, it’s Bush’s fault.

    Fags, fiestas, fish

    Posted by Sean at 01:23, June 8th, 2009

    There are several websites devoted to people who have been members of the cult-ish Christian sect in which I was, I believe I’ve mentioned several times, brought up.  The editor of one of them offered to create a page about what it was like for gay kids, and it’s up here.  Yes, I’m linking to a page that mostly consists of my nattering, but the interesting parts to me were the questions he came up with.  There was nothing I hadn’t been called upon to think about before, but it never hurts to cast an unsparing eye over these things again.  Thanks to James, the editor in question, for making such an effort to turn out a page that looks great.  I hope its target audience finds it of use.

    My friend Sarah also posted about upbringings in a slightly less self-aggrandizing context this weekend.  She was responding to this post by Ilya Somin, and she said in part:


    If I need to explain how this leads to racism — my sons, both US born, with a US father, routinely get asked why they’re not preserving their Portuguese culture and I routinely get taken to task for not teaching them “their language.”

    And that brings us to the next point — tourism culture — culture is NOT the food or the clothing or — at least not in the US — the religion. This is how cultures are taught in US schools, and it is wrong. These are trappings and the sort of thing a tourist might think is “neat.” Teaching it this way is poisonous because kids get this “foreign cultures are just like us, except for neato traditions we don’t have” view at the same time they get the MOST jaundiced, sin-oriented view of American history and culture possible. They have no idea that if they actually studied other cultures in depth, their historical “sins” and their modern ones too would FAR outweigh those of the US. (No, I’m not going to apologize for that qualitative judgement. I voted with feet, remember?)

    I have to say the whole down-on-the-West thing is something I’ve never understood. One of the very most dominant strains in the development of Western thought has been self-examination, and through it self-awareness and self-correction. You acknowledge that colonization (or slavery, or treating women as chattel) is bad, and then you stop doing it. Social injustices on those vast scales take a while to be worked out, of course; but the idea is always to be working toward improving our institutions so that they serve the liberty of their individual members better. That doesn’t make us a flawless society, but it’s hard to see how it makes us worse than everyone else. Even among those who keep insisting we have a litany of transgressions to apologize for, most Americans wouldn’t want to make the trade-offs required to live in Canada, much less elsewhere.

    And on a somewhat lighter note, while keeping with the errant-elders theme, Eric encountered one of those classic product warning labels that leave you wondering whether you or the attorneys who drafted it are crazier:

    It doesn’t look too bad, and it seems solid enough. The only complaint I have is with the lawyers, who put a ridiculous disclaimer on the front page of the instructions:

    Unit can tip over causing severe injury or death.

    And underneath that there are more warnings, but here’s the part that killed me:

    Put heavy items on lower shelves or drawers.

    Who are they kidding? This is an aquarium stand, for God’s sake. The aquarium goes on top!

    A filled 55 gallon aquarium weighs 625 pounds.

    Sure, there are some little shelves you could put things on, but there is no place to put the aquarium except on the top. That’s what it was designed for.

    Or are the lawyers warning me that it was not designed for what it was designed for?

    Well, they fulfilled the form of a warning, if not the function; and form is often what counts.

    Hello world!

    Posted by Sean at 10:04, June 7th, 2009


    The owners of Powerblogs have devoted their energies to other things for the last few years and are thinking of shutting it down soon, so it seemed like a good time to make the jump to another platform.  I’m trying things out here without redirecting www.seorookie.net to it for the moment, for anyone who’s happened on it and been confused.  At first I was going to delete this post and start with a new one after importing everything from my existing blog, but I like the title, which reminds me of the chorus to the first song on the Go-Go’s reunion album eight or so years ago.  Not the most consistent album, but a fantastic opening volley.  Think I’ll listen to it.

    Anyway, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll see this after I redirect my domain to WP.  If anything’s displaying weird or what have you, please let me know.

    Added later: Is it my imagination, or does this fixed-width format make me look even more long-winded than usual?

    Added still later: Naturally, mine seems to be the only computer in the free world that is still directing to the old Powerblogs blog. GRRRR! I wouldn’t have been able to get things up and running here last night were it not for my mother’s behemoth desktop, on which she uses AOL. AOL! Who’d have thought I’d ever be thankful to have AOL to fall back on?

    Added yet later: Okay, I think it’s displaying fine in Firefox now, though it took me a bit to figure out what the problem was. (Why on Earth would you want to put the code in for the footer at the end of your Main Page template? That would be silly!) If anyone’s getting weirdnesses (besides that related to the content of what I post), please let me know.


    Posted by Sean at 23:18, June 6th, 2009

    Busy and not where it’s easy to post. But I didn’t want to let the D-Day anniversary go by without acknowledging it. Q and O, Rondi, and Eric, among many others, I’m sure, have posts up. We all owe an enormous debt to those who fought.


    Posted by Sean at 12:21, May 24th, 2009

    Not only are the two Japan Post subsidiaries related to the mails less profitable than the bank and the insurance company, but they also, according to the Yomiuri, owe back-taxes for Japanese fiscal year 2008, halfway through which the system was privatized:

    Following investigations by the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau into the two companies, the bureau notified the firms of their unreported earnings for the business year ending March 2008, according to sources.

    The companies are expected to be levied about 9.2 billion yen in back taxes, including penalty, corporate and local taxes, the sources said.

    The total undeclared income reportedly is more than 20 billion yen.

    It also said Japan Post Service and Japan Post Network logged 3.53 billion yen and 5.69 billion yen, respectively, to pay for taxes, on the assumption that the two companies would likely have to pay back taxes.

    Although Japan Post Group said it had a “difference in understanding” with the bureau, the group said it would abide by the notification.

    Well, you know, in Japan, these things are all about perspective.

    Japan Post update

    Posted by Sean at 14:50, May 23rd, 2009

    The Japan Post family of companies released its first financial statements for a full fiscal year since privatization–well, more like partial governmental divestiture, but in today’s climate, anything that even resembles a shift in the direction of less federal control of a major industry feels like a refreshing change–and the numbers are mixed:

    In the consolidated financial statements for J-FY 2008 Q4 that Japan Post released on 22 May, current income (corresponding to sales revenues) was JPY 19.9617 trillion, current profits were JPY 830.5 billion, and net profits (for the quarter) were JPY 422.7 billion. Since privatization in October 2007, this round is the first release of financial statements for a full fiscal year, and while all four companies operating under the Japan Post umbrella ultimately secured balances in the black, the three remaining companies when Japan Post Insurance is excluded fell short of standing projections. CEO Yoshifumi Nishikawa indicated in an interview that he intends to stay on the pitcher’s mound until the two financial subsidiaries [the insurance companies and the savings bank] are in a condition to list their stock, which is planned for as early as J-FY 2010.

    It’s the two finance-related arms that are making most of the profits; the holding company wants to jack up the contribution from the remaining two companies, one of which runs the post offices and the other of which runs the shipping and courier logistics of the old postal system. The Mainichi has an English version here, which scrambles the order of the original Japanese article but doesn’t omit much of the information.

    Is it true I’m an eagle?

    Posted by Sean at 16:40, May 22nd, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning is headlined “How should Japan contribute to ‘demand within Asia’?”

    In getting the global economic crisis under control, Asia, which is called the growth center of the 21st Century, looms large. In a 21 May lecture, Prime Minister Taro Aso called for the expansion of “demand within Asia”; how can Japan fulfill a leading role in doing so? The challenges posed and responsibilities thrust upon it are weighty.

    The prime minister took as his topic “Toward an Asia that surmounts the economic crisis and soars again,” and he stressed that there is a need to shift the Asian economy from the export-driven structure it’s had up to now into a structure driven by internal demand. Where that is concerned, the diverse nations and territories of Asia are not likely to dissent.

    A supplementary-budget proposal for FY 2009 that undertakes additional economic measures on a scale that exceeds the previous maximum of JPY 15 trillion is not under deliberation in the House of Councillors. It’s necessary to start taking financial action, but annual expenditures that it’s not unrealistic to expect to be tied to money politics will not contribute to an increase in Japan’s ability to grow. There’s a need to move forward in parallel with structural reforms, such as deregulation, as well.

    On the other hand, we will have to accept more from Asian nations and territories–not just imports but also human resources. Pain will accompany the opening of agricultural markets and things, but there’s no way to get around it.

    In connection with the stability and expansion of Asian financial markets, the prime minister stated, “we want to make the ‘yen’ something that different countries can use for financing in times of crisis.” The idea is to provide emergency loans of Japanese yen to countries that have insufficient foreign currency, but it can also be considered an intention to “internationalize the yen.”

    In Asia, China has pushed for an economy built on the yuan with trade negotiations with neighboring nations and territories such as ASEAN. These are activities with a view toward a “yuan currency sphere.”

    China is the 3rd-largest economy in GDP after the United States and Japan. There’s a high probability that it will pull ahead of Japan in one or two years. Still, the hurdles to internationalization for the yuan are higher than for the yen.

    The prime minister has issued invitations to heads of state of five nations in the Mekong River Basin, such as Thailand and Vietnam, and also announced that he will hold the first “Japan-Mekong Summit” within the year. The nations of the Mekong Basin, which border China, are of major geographic importance.

    It is important for Japan to strengthen its tie-ups with and trust from Asian nations and territories and to show some ability to develop a concept for the expansion of demand within Asia. That will also have an effect on the renaissance of the Japanese economy.

    I quote the editorial at some length not because it says anything new but because it doesn’t. Take away the figures specific to the budget and to China, and this sounds like just about every editorial on the Japanese economy in the last fifteen years: Asia is becoming more important, we need to liberalize our markets and make nice with the neighbors, and that means not being so closed off. The current crisis does change things, and it will be interesting, if that’s the word, to follow possible damage to the dollar as the world currency.

    But I’m not so sure the yen is a good candidate for a replacement, even in Asia. I’ve always found it interesting that we in the West are so bent on explaining Japan; in my experience, people from other places in Asia are far more willing to conclude that Japan is just plain weird and leave it at that. Perhaps part of the reason is that they already understand Buddhism and Confucianism and therefore don’t get hung up on trying out novel ways of applying them to the Japanese–I don’t know. In any case, countries in Asia know they need Japan and have a lot to gain from tapping into its industrial capacity, but they seem to recognize the Japanese political and economic systems as real headaches for outsiders beyond a certain point. And the Nikkei can wag its finger about the necessary but difficult process of making Japan more open to foreigners, but to this point, somehow talk of “internationalization” has rarely resulted in meaningful action. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how Beijing reacts to Aso’s Mekong Basin thing.

    Should I laugh or cry?

    Posted by Sean at 22:04, May 20th, 2009

    Eric links to a piece by Thomas Frank at the WSJ, in which he accuses conservatives of being too suspicious of Washington bureaucrats. Frank writes:

    Mr. Issa’s suspicions may be grotesque but they are also typical of the conservative movement. The government and its bureaucrats are, to the right, ever a malign force — jealous, power-hungry and greedy. But it’s hard to blame someone for failing after you’ve worked so hard to make them fail.

    But back in 2008, he insisted that “the problem starts and ends with the federal government.” Among other things, he charged, its regulators “weren’t just asleep at the switch but in many ways . . . gave the green light for these practices,” meaning the trading of mortgage-backed securities.

    On this point, at least, Mr. Issa got it right. The regulators did fail us. They were too cozy with industry and too blinkered by the free-market faith to see the reality unfolding under their noses.

    I’m not a particular fan of Issa’s, but I’m getting really sick of hearing about how economic policy governed by unbridled “free-market faith” is the cause of our current problems. What meaningful deregulation of anything has there been in the last decade–especially related to the housing market, where one of the big problems was insulation from feedback? And I don’t know that the problem with regulators is that they were too “cozy with industry”; rather, to hear the language they used and use, they seemed to think that pushing through their decision-distorting policies justified bringing in the private sector as “partners” when it was useful to do so.

    At least, my sense of mischief compels me to point out, Thomas Frank is an apt person to be counseling against being too suspicious. Those of us who subscribed to Harper’s a decade ago remember his piece on the soon-defunct band Yum-yum, in which…well, I’ll let the Reason piece that ran at the time tell it, since it’s online:

    In February, a new buzz about Yum-Yum started on e-mail listservs and phone lines among people who both knew the band and read Harper’s Magazine. The March issue of Harper’s contained a 10-page feature story about Yum-Yum, written by Chris Holmes’s childhood pal and former roommate Thomas Frank. Frank is a rising leftist intellectual star who edits The Baffler, a magazine of cultural criticism, and writes critiques of advertising and big business.

    What made this obscure failed rock band of interest to Harper’s? Frank had a theory about the band, one with which almost everyone who had independent knowledge about Yum-Yum disagreed. The Yum-Yum record, Frank postulated, was not intended as a sincere work of popular music. It was instead an ironic gesture, an attempt to “fake fake itself” (his italics). Pop music was the “fake” being “faked.” The album was, Frank asserted, a “critique” of “the pop-music industry” even as it was a product of it. Thus, the story fit well with the main mission of Harper’s: helping middle- to highbrow intellectuals confirm their inchoate contempt for the modern market order.

    By the time I got my copy of the March Harper’s, I had already heard, via e-mail lists or phone calls, complaints about the story’s dubious premise from about a dozen Yum-Yum-conscious Harper’s readers. The executive editor of Spin magazine, Craig Marks, was peeved enough to write in The Village Voice that he found Frank’s account “bafflingly misguided.” Marks suggested the real story was probably that “Holmes, too embarrassed to admit to his hard-ass buddy that…he actually liked girly-pop…fed Frank a steaming plate of cred-saving b******t. And Frank bought it….Now that‘s ironic.”

    If memory serves, the Harper’s article was even more obnoxiously smug than Brian Doherty’s excerpts would lead you to believe; nevertheless, Frank’s impulses are very easy to empathize with. (If you’d backed yourself into profiling your friend in a national magazine, wouldn’t you be looking for some way…any way…not to admit, in your head and on paper, that you’d discovered in the course of doing your research that he was failing in his ambitions?) But that didn’t make his view of things accurate then, and in a strikingly similar way, it doesn’t now.

    Frank tries to personalize the animus against Washington: “The government and its bureaucrats are, to the right, ever a malign force–jealous, power-hungry and greedy.” Okay, sure, there are some small-government types who seem to be fueled by resentment or uncharitableness; but I think it’s fair to say that most of us just think that expecting big government to work well (the way most of us mean when we say “work well”) goes against what we know about human nature. Which is to say, when you get a bunch of people–anyone–together where they’re mostly removed from scrutiny, then encourage them to think it’s their job to queen it over a population of 300 million, it’s not all that surprising that they start to think largesse is theirs to give and take at their own discretion.

    Or as Eric says:

    But if I may say a few words in defense of conservatives here, it would be that the government was never actually being run by conservatives, but by untouchable, unaccountable, and above all unelected bureaucrats. It matters very little who is supposedly in charge of them, as they can’t be fired and they often have more power than their purported superiors who have to run for office, and who dare not offend the movers and shakers in the bureaucracy.

    Even if through some bizarre miracle there were a libertarian majority in Congress, I doubt they’d be able to do much. Government would still fail to fix problems, and problems that government tries to solve invariably demand more government to fix. It’s part of the design.

    Added on 22 May: Thanks to Eric for the link back. In case I haven’t already linked to Classical Values enough this week, Eric put up a related post about whether it’s possible to define the “Republican base” usefully. I sincerely think it’s worth a read.

    You’ve heard me saying that smoking was my only vice

    Posted by Sean at 19:40, May 18th, 2009

    Reason.tv has a hilarious conversation posted between Katherine Mangu-Ward and Greg Gutfeld, who hosts Red Eye on Fox News and apparently used to be editor of Men’s Health magazine. (I grew up a stone’s throw from Rodale Press HQ.) The Hit & Run link makes it sound as if the clip were full of raunch, but I don’t think Gutfeld says anything you couldn’t get away with on network TV after 10 p.m. or so. (You may still think that’s vulgar, but it doesn’t seem like a degree of naughtiness worth playing up.) Anyway, he has a lot to say about health-related nanny-state-ism, tiresome moralizing, and keeping your toaster away from meth addicts. A good listen.

    Summer night city

    Posted by Sean at 00:04, May 18th, 2009

    Japan has ream upon ream of exquisite poems about spring and autumn; by contrast, there are comparatively few about summer, possibly because the prevailing feeling during that season in most of the archipelago (“how the hell am I going to keep from dying in this heat?!”) does not exactly lend itself to sublimeness of expression. However, one of the early summer tropes–and summer according to the lunar calendar begins during the first week of May–is the return of the cuckoo as certain seasonal flowers begin to bloom.



    natsu kusa ha/shigerinikeredo/hototogisu/nado waga yado ni/hitokoe mo senu

    engi no oon’uta

    The summer grasses
    have come up in abundance,
    but why, O cuckoo,
    do you not favor my home
    with even a single cry?

    Engi no Oon’uta

    Ick. That translation came out very precious. On the bright side, I was able to go pretty much line by line without having to shuffle things around much; the Japanese for “cuckoo” is five syllables in and of itself, so in a 5-7-5-7-7 verse it takes up a lot of real estate and tends to force you to use filler if you want to try to adhere to the original as much as you can when translating.

    The return of the cuckoo when the grasses grow lush and the orange blossoms and deutzia bloom is considered very moving. The poet sees the thickened grass and purports to wonder whether the cuckoo is somehow shunning him. (If it has any sense, it’s probably just decided to summer in Alaska this year.)