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    In my dreams, I have a plan

    Posted by Sean at 09:52, May 15th, 2009

    John at 21st-Century Schizoid Man has been writing a lot about the way we’re getting rubber-hosed by the current administration’s forays into business and trade engineering.

    The second point is how markets were distorted by government regulation in such a way that market-clearing economic activity led to the results that the critics are now calling market failures: the markets didn’t fail. They just punished those who followed government-mandated development that no market could sustain.

    This is the great tragedy of the recent crisis: that government, which got us into the situation, is actively making things worse. The markets obey the Gods of the Copybook Headings, the unavoidable effects of cause and effect, the inexorable meeting of demand and supply in clearing the market of available goods, what we economists call equilibrium. Politicians sincerely believe that they can manipulate markets to give them the politically desired effects: that works only for a relatively short period of time, as markets will ruthlessly punish those who mess with them. The invisible hand of Adam Smith doesn’t care about political goals and will destroy, in the long run, anyone trying to game the markets for political effects.

    The Japanese have spent the last two decades finding that out, too.

    If you’re not depressed enough, Eric links to a piece by Jim Geraghty that argues, fascinatingly if not surprisingly, that Washington is now following the Alinsky model of governance. (Yes, Saul Alinsky, of course.) Eric adds:

    Bear in mind that from the voters’ standpoint, both sides always say they care more about principle than power, and they always say that the other side has no principles. I think voters tend to be more cynical than is customarily believed, and certainly they’re smart enough to realize that to most politicians, “principles” are all about talk. Something the chattering classes and political junkies might debate, but nothing for which any rational politician would risk losing his seat. Besides, how are ordinary people supposed to evaluate the legitimacy of rival politicians’ claims to having “principles”? I think it’s more likely that in the end, voters will do what the politicians do, and conclude that it’s all about power.

    There’s certainly plenty of evidence to back that up.

    I always find it funny when my more liberal friends get all enthusiastic about government as this wonderful vehicle for us as The People to pool our power and realize our Visions. That sounds nice, but in practice it runs smack up against the fact that Americans disagree in good faith over a lot of policy principles, and not everyone can win. Most government officials have narrow experience and expertise just like the rest of us, and asking them to butt in on all kinds of issues they can’t possibly have the knowledge to adjudicate is just asking for trouble. It forces voters to monitor what their congresspersons and senators think about anything and everything. It gives Washington officials a broad range of influence to peddle. (Or, if you prefer to believe venality originates with the private sector, it gives lobbyists of every stripe a reason to come calling.) And it gets those officials addicted to the (heady, one can only imagine) feeling that they have not only the authority but also the know-how to drive the economy and engineer society. And this is what we get.

    Added after a few more sips of coffee: I pushed “Submit” before remembering to add this back in: I realize it’s not just liberals who openly romanticize government who vote for meddlesome nanny-state policies and distortionary entitlements. There are as many on the right as on the left who could stand to bear in mind the old libertarian saw that it’s dangerous to increase the powers of the state under the assumption that your friends are always going to be those enforcing them.


    Posted by Sean at 11:33, May 13th, 2009

    Redundancy of the week goes to Camille Paglia’s Salon.com editor, who summarizes her column thus: “The assassination jokes and ‘liberal’ conspiracy theories on talk radio could be an ominous sign of things to come.”

    Paglia herself says that her worries stem from listening to talk radio:

    With the national Republican party in disarray, an argument is solidifying among grass-roots conservatives: Liberals, who are now in power in Washington, hate America and want to dismantle its foundational institutions and liberties, including capitalism and private property. Liberals are rootless internationalists who cravenly appease those who want to kill us. The primary principle of conservatives, on the other hand, is love of country, for which they are willing to sacrifice and die. America’s identity was forged by Christian faith and our Founding Fathers, to whose prudent and unerring 18th-century worldview we must return.

    In a harried, fragmented, media-addled time, there is an invigorating simplicity to this political fundamentalism. It is comforting to hold fast to hallowed values, to defend tradition against the slackness of relativism and hedonism. But when the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation, there is reason for alarm.

    I’ve never been a talk radio listener, so I can’t really determine whether Paglia is accurately perceiving what she hears there. But the read I’ve gotten–from the Tea Party demonstrations, from my working-class relatives, from news sources, from blogs–is less aimed specifically at “liberals,” who have always been in the cross-hairs of much of the American public, than at insider politicians and their hangers-on, who any sensible person knows are on both sides of the aisle. Of course liberals and Democrats are taking most of the heat right now; they are, in fact, in power. They control the presidency and both houses of congress, and they got there by campaigning on pharisaical displays of outrage at conservative and Republican nastiness and making promises that they would change the way things are done. Now that they’re in power, of course, it’s still politics as usual, only more so: favoritism (whether bestowed on an individual tax evader who happens to be in line for a cabinet post or on a labor union), fantastical levels of spending, and a war policy that has changed very little (despite all the rhetorical arabesques). Paglia baffles me by continuing to insist “what a fresh new breeze Obama represents in Washington.” We all saw her susceptibility to charisma in the Clinton era, but at least then she had a rueful sense of self-awareness about it.

    Speaking of people who get Camille exercised, Julie Burchill is interviewed in the Guardian–hilarious and well worth reading as always:

    Bindel: You describe yourself as a “militant feminist”. What does that mean to you?

    Burchill: “A girl who likes to have fun” … and a lot of other stuff obviously. Someone who realises that women’s human rights are more important than cultural “sensitivity”. Like it’s sensitive to cut someone’s clitoris off! Someone who doesn’t give a toss about the approval of others – men and women.

    A woman that cheeks and insults men, righteously and politically, but also for kicks and fun. I like men and get on much better with them one to one than I do women, who can be a bit emotional. But part of what makes a man a man is that he never takes offence! When you see sad-sacks like, what was his name, Neil something [Lyndon, author of No More Sex War: the Failures of Feminism]. “Men’s Lib” – that’s the opposite of a man, to me. Just shut up and take your lumps. And then we can all have a laugh.

    Obviously, having had the father I had I have very high expectations of men. On the whole, in the west, where feminism has made its mark, I think they’ve done great. It’s so lovely that even in prison, men who aren’t touchy-feely have to be stopped from beating up rapists – not just child molesters, but rapists of grown women. It’s a shame that educated middle-class leftwing men can’t take feminism on board so effectively.

    Bindel: I much prefer women to men. A lot of them are emotional cripples. Have you not found that? Are we such different feminists do you think?

    Burchill: I don’t want to hear about every last thing someone is feeling. I think most men have it about right. All men should be like my dad!

    Bindel: Is your Christian faith still important?

    Burchill: I would rather be a Jew. I find it hard to think of myself as an Anglican while the head of the church is a cowardly suck-up like Rowan Williams. I’m hoping that Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, will get the gig next. He’s my absolute hero.

    Bindel: Why would you want to be a Jew?

    Burchill: I love everything about the Jews. But I probably won’t become one, as I like the view from the outside. I will probably just remain a Christian Zionist; it’s a long and honourable tradition.

    Via Alice.

    Don’t look too deep into those angeleyes

    Posted by Sean at 18:13, May 11th, 2009

    Bruce Bawer writes that he’s received a number of responses to his most recent City Journal piece, which says in part:

    More and more Western Europeans, recognizing the threat to their safety and way of life, have turned their backs on the establishment, which has done little or nothing to address these problems, and begun voting for parties—some relatively new, and all considered right-wing—that have dared to speak up about them. One measure of the dimensions of this shift: Owing to the rise in gay-bashings by Muslim youths, Dutch gays—who 10 years ago constituted a reliable left-wing voting bloc—now support conservative parties by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

    The other major reason for the turn against the left is economic. Western Europeans have long paid sky-high taxes for a social safety net that seems increasingly not worth the price. These taxes have slowed economic growth. Timbro’s Johnny Munkhammar noted in 2005 that Sweden, for instance, which in the first half of the 20th century had the world’s second-highest growth rate, had since fallen to No. 14, owing to enormous tax hikes.

    The past few decades in Europe have made three things crystal-clear. First, social-democratic welfare systems work best, to the extent they do work, in ethnically and culturally homogeneous (and preferably small) nations whose citizens, viewing one another as members of an extended family, are loath to exploit government provisions for the needy. Second, the best way to destroy such welfare systems is to take in large numbers of immigrants from poor, oppressive and corruption-ridden societies, whose rule of the road is to grab everything you can get your hands on. And third, the system will be wiped out even faster if many of those immigrants are fundamentalist Muslims who view bankrupting the West as a contribution to jihad. Add to all this the growing power of an unelected European Union bureaucracy that has encouraged Muslim immigration and taken steps to punish criticism of it—criminalizing “incitement of racism, xenophobia or hatred against a racial, ethnic or religious group” in 2007, for example—and you can start to understand why Western Europeans who prize their freedoms are resisting the so-called leadership of their see-no-evil elites.

    If the Danes have affirmed individual liberty, human rights, sexual equality, the rule of law, and freedom of speech and religion, some Western Europeans have reacted to the mindless multiculturalism of their socialist leaders by embracing alternatives that seem uncomfortably close to fascism. Consider Austria’s recently deceased Jörg Haider, who belittled the Holocaust, honored Waffen-SS veterans, and found things to praise about Nazism. In 2000, his Freedom Party became part of a coalition government, leading the rest of the EU to isolate Austria diplomatically for a time, and last September his new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, won 11% of the vote in parliamentary elections. Or take Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has called the Holocaust “a detail in the history of World War II” and advocated the forced quarantining of people who test HIV-positive—and whose far-right National Front came out on top in the first round of voting for the French presidency in 2002. The British National Party (BNP), which has a whites-only membership policy and has flatly denied the Holocaust, won more than 5% of the vote in London’s last mayoral election. Then there’s Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), formerly Vlaams Bloc, whose leaders have a regrettable tendency to be caught on film singing Nazi songs and buying Nazi books. In 2007, it won 5 out of 40 seats in the Belgian Senate.

    He’s posted an update on his blog–there are no links to individual posts but this is the one timestamped “Wednesday, May 6, 2009, 9:28 P.M. CET”:

    The other day, in the wake of my City Journal piece “Heirs to Fortuyn?”, a couple of anti-jihad writers who had not yet rebuked me for my stance on Vlaams Belang finally got around to doing so. Not only did they send me e-mails taking me to task for criticizing VB in that article; one of them also took it upon himself to chew me out for, in his view, admiring Pim Fortuyn too much and Geert Wilders too little. (Never mind that I’ve defended Wilders frequently and that Wilders has blurbed my new book, Surrender.) Wilders, this individual felt compelled to lecture me, is a far greater figure than Fortuyn ever was. Why? Because, he explained, Wilders stands for “Western values,” while Fortuyn stood only for – get ready for this – “Dutch libertinism.”

    Yes, “Dutch libertinism.” The words took my breath away. During the last few days (while, as it happened, I was visiting Amsterdam) I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. For a self-styled anti-jihadist – who, by the way, I first met three years ago at the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference in The Hague – to refer in this way to a man who sacrificed his life for human liberty is, in my view, not only incomprehensible but profoundly despicable. This is, after all, precisely the sort of language that Dutch Muslim leaders hurled at Fortuyn during his lifetime. And in the present case the words were plainly aimed not only at Fortuyn but at me – a writer who, like Fortuyn, that great martyr for freedom, is gay.

    Some of these people probably had contempt for Fortuyn all along but were willing not to repudiate him as long as he was one of the few high-profile advocates of classical liberalism. It doesn’t take a major leap to see their becoming fans of the Vlaams Belang (which from everything I’ve ever heard is seriously wacko), either.

    What’s more worrisome is the number of sensible, rank-and-file Western European citizens who may be figuring that the emerging alternatives to the left establishment are the only useful corrective and pushback available at this point, and that the unpalatable fascist undercurrents can be dealt with later. It seems a dangerous game to play in light of history.

    Added at 20:44: Oh, and speaking of people with Norway connections who don’t swim with the social-democratic current around them, Rondi Adamson was profiled last week on Normblog, and it’s an interesting read.

    Added on 12 May: Thanks to Eric for the link.

    Come to think of it, he’s got Norwegian blood, too.


    Posted by Sean at 17:48, May 3rd, 2009

    You’ve already been told to watch this, haven’t you? I think Jon Stewart’s often very funny, but on this particular topic, what Bill Whittle says in response to his statements–which are not only not funny but positively monstrous–cannot be repeated enough. Note that, unless I missed it, he was able to make his case without even mentioning Unit 731 or anything else about the kempeitai, either. He also doesn’t mention, regarding the charge that America was just trying to show the Soviet Union who’s boss, that it was Japan that had decided it was a good idea to start playing the Soviets off the United States in the first place. (I’m not saying his argument is therefore flawed, only that he hasn’t exhausted the material he could have used to support it.)

    I adore Japan. I happily took a degree in Japanese literature, and I loved every minute of the eleven years I lived in Tokyo; while I’m very happy to be home, there are many things I miss about it. I work in an all-Japanese office (except for me, obviously). I’m glad we’re strategic and military partners now.

    But now is not then. War with an implacable enemy requires tough choices, and I’m glad our grandfathers made saving their own people the top priority.

    Added later: Whittle also has a blog post with quite a few good comments, including one by Connie du Toit that recommends an episode from the documentary The World at War, which you may remember from when it was broadcast on television.

    Equal condescension under law

    Posted by Sean at 07:25, May 1st, 2009

    So if I understand this article correctly, if you give into the (thoroughly understandable) temptation to administer a good, sound beating-up to Barney Frank, the hate-crimes bill that just passed the House says…uh…you’d better not be thinking about his homosexuality while you’re doing it? You’d better not be thinking about what other homos might feel if they hear about it?

    The legislators quoted as supporting the bill seem to be vague on what actual good it will do. (I realize that soundbites are often like that, but this seems like one of those cases in which a pithy statement of purpose shouldn’t be all that hard to make.)

    Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a supporter of the bill, contended it was protection for gays that drove the opposition.

    “I wonder if our friends on the other side of the aisle would be singing the same offensive tune if we were talking about hate crimes based on race or religion,” she said, referring to Republican opponents. “It seems to me it is the category of individuals that they are offended by, rather than the fact that we have hate crimes laws at all.”

    She then recounted cases where gay people were victims of violence.

    The issue was personal for openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who said the bill would protect “people like me.” He said he wasn’t asking for approval from people with whom he didn’t want to associate.

    Answering those who said the protections were not needed, Frank quoted Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers comedy team, from the movie “Duck Soup”: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

    Eric, of course, got on this immediately:

    The horrendous expansion of federal power in the “Matthew Shepard Act” serves as proof of how wrong it was to have hate crime legislation in the first place. Adding new categories only compounds the error.

    Of course, few people will take the time to analyze these things. They just hear the sound bytes about how it’s “doing something about gay bashing” on the one hand, or “attacking Christian free speech” on the other.

    Eric posted a great deal about hate-crimes legislation a few years ago, and as he mentions in his latest post, he took a lot of heat for it. IIRC, there were two main arguments from supporters: (1) since hate-crimes provisions only apply to sentencing guidelines, they don’t actually create a new class of crimes, and (2) hate crimes deserve special designation because they do more harm–they damage whole groups, not just their direct individual victims, and they also damage those victims more–and have been found not to run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.

    Those distinctions aren’t meaningless, but I think they mostly score more points with legal theorists than with citizens debating how we want society to run in ethical and moral terms. There’s all sorts of legislation that’s possible under the Constitution but isn’t a good idea. And judges already have latitude in sentencing if they’re dealing with seriously egregious criminals.

    So I think that what it comes down to is whether you accept the premise of greater harm, which I’ve always found highly suspect. Knowing that there are psychos–or even just miscreants–out to get you may paralyze you with fear if you’re that sort of person, but it could just as easily galvanize you into forming a crime-watch group, taking self-defense lessons, or (here’s an idea) buying a gun. I’ve never once seen good evidence for the constant contention that being targeted by an attacker for being gay somehow necessarily inflicts more psychological distess than being targeted by an attacker who sees you as a Total Perosn and hates you for who you are in all your fascinating, kaleidoscopic modalities. And as for group harm, there’s a thoroughly creepy assumption that we have some sort of queer hive-mind, through which we passively receive transmissions of dread.

    What I suspect undergirds a lot of this is the idea that gays deserve some sort of redress because we’ve Suffered Enough. Getting the police to take a gay-bashing seriously used to be for the most part a lost cause. Even today, growing up gay is far from easy, but a lot of the difficulty is stuff that you just have to suck up. You can’t punish parents for telegraphing that they’re disappointed they won’t get grandchildren the conventional way, or kids for keeping a classmate at arm’s length because she’s on the butch side. However, if someone commits an illegal act motivated by anti-gay animus, you can try to ensure that the law really let’s him have it and thereby give gay people some sense that balance has been restored.

    But there’s a problem with that thinking–aside from the moral outrage of using an offender as a stand-in for others. It sends the message that gays have to be treated with extra-special tenderness, even by law enforcement and the court system, which is not exactly the way to defeat the old charge that we’re all drama queens. Enshrining, in federal legislation, the idea that gays are more emotionally vulnerable than others…and that the community fabric is more easily rent when we’re victimized, or something…is just a kindly motivated way of telling us yet again that we’re not grown-ups.

    Added later: I’ve reinserted a sentence that got lost during cutting and pasting.

    People I must write to/Bills I must pay

    Posted by Sean at 10:40, April 26th, 2009

    It should be obvious by this point that I just kind of stop posting for weeks now and then, but I’m still grateful to those who’ve dropped a line to ask what’s up. Nothing in particular–except, perhaps, that my currently working as a translator considerably lowers the motivation to use free time to search out interesting Japanese news and translate it. And now that cherry blossom season is over there’s kind of a dead space for seasonal poetry.

    There’s never a dead space for political idiocy, however, and Sweden resident Michael Moynihan pounces on some from a recent episode of The Daily Show:

    Not a particularly funny bit, considering the available material, but a few points about the total awesomeness of Swedish social democracy and the show’s but-we’re-only-joking case for the Swedish model. (They are, after all, making a serious political point in an unserious way.) Cenac’s interview with ex-Abba frontman Björn Ulvaeus, during which he attempts to get him to admit that the song “Money, Money, Money” is a paean to American capitalism, leaves one with the impression that the millionaire songwriter is rather pleased with his country’s glorious socialist history. Well, no.

    In 2007, the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter (DN) reported that governent “authorities claim[ed] Ulvaeus, using the services of a tax haven company, concealed millions in music production income to avoid paying taxes.” DN points out that “Since 1990 Ulvaeus royalties have been collected in a Dutch company, now known as Fintage. The company made a deal with the tax haven company Stanove, on the Dutch Antilles, to transfer 95% of [Abba’s] royalties there.” And avoid giving it to a mother desperately in need of a second year of maternity leave.

    Nor is this a new issue for Ulvaeus. In 1982, before the Social Democratic Party returned to power on promises of soaking the rich, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Abba’s manager Stig Anderson was “deeply concerned by the threat of a Socialist takeover of his [business] empire. ‘If we had had these funds today, we would have been forced this year to part with about $US2.16 million…Why should I continue to work 14-15 hours a day to give money away like this?…We don’t want to leave Sweden. Our roots are here. We have our friends here. I intend to stay here and fight these funds even if the Social Democrats are elected. But if it becomes impossible, of course it would be very easy for us to move out.'”

    All of this is, of course, just an excuse to indulge my recent ABBA jag. Here the four are performing the song from which I’ve snagged the title for this post:

    Some child-of-the-’70s observations: Agnetha looks like a Cheryl Ladd who might actually pull a gun and waste you if need be. And Benny has exactly the same mannerisms at the piano as Christine McVie–from the little smile to the way the hair moves. And look at how tiny those microphones are! They were cutting edge, they were. And tell me you’ve every seen anyone look as fierce in a quilted jacket as Frida.

    Bjorn doesn’t seem to be doing much; he just kind of reminds me of Dana Carvey.

    Lest you think I’ve forgotten about Japan, here’s another performance for Japanese TV from the same period:

    Can you imagine any production getting away with such a static set and nonexistent choreography today–especially when there’s not even any pretense that the band is performing live? Nowadays, poor Agnetha and Frida would have been rehearsed to within an inch of their lives, and there’d have to be something projected on the wall behind that arc-balloon thing.

    Added later: Oops–I think Moynihan has permanent residency in Sweden but now lives in DC. At least, he does if his bio at Reason.com is updated.

    South Korea having trouble funding North Korean defectors

    Posted by Sean at 17:50, March 29th, 2009

    This article in the Mainichi reports that the flow of refugees across the northern DPRK border has slowed. The reason? Much of it is financed by organizations in prosperous South Korea, but the world economic slowdown is making funding scarce. The blurb says:

    The number of dappokusha fleeing from North Korea to China has decreased substantially. Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, China, which abuts the PRC-DPRK border. It’s the biggest stronghold of the refugee business, but the activities of the brokers who maneuver behind the scenes guiding refugees through are at a standstill. This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and in addition to a heightened level of alert at the border, the effects of the financial crisis have stopped the money that gets to them from South Korea. However, the defections supported by the brokers are a “necessary evil.” Beyond the border, there’s a backlog of desperate people.

    The article itself is of the punchy human-interest type, relating information about a particular broker:

    The man is a former member of the PRC armed forces. His role is to move dappokusha who’ve crossed the Tuman River to a hideout in an apartment building in Yanbian. According to the man, there are (1) a border-crossing team, which works with collaborators on the DPRK side and guides [refugees] through the border crossing; (2) the man’s conveyance team; (3) the hideout-management team; (4) the long-distance-conveyance team, [to move people further] to Beijing and elsewhere. When dappokusha succeed in defecting to South Korea, suitable remuneration [in the form of] processing fees is largely provided by a support organization there in the ROK.

    The situation on the ROK side is a major reason defection has decreased. It’s figured that “processing fees paid to Chinese brokers run an average of 100000 yuan (approx.1.4 million yen),” according to [a source] affiliated with a support organization. The man’s client is a South Korean religious group; donations from organizations and individuals were an effective source of capital, but “the Korean economy has cooled off, and donations have dropped of dramatically, so the flow of money is poor,” he added.

    1.4 million yen is about $14000.


    Posted by Sean at 17:47, March 29th, 2009

    I love this report in the Yomiuri:

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency announced on 29 March that there is a possibility that the launch of North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile under the guise of an “artificial satellite” will take place after 6 April due to weather conditions.

    North Korea has announced to international organizations that the launch will take place between 4 and 8 April, but according to the Yonhap wire service, The [Republic of] Korea Meteorological Agency has forecast that, at the launch base in Musudanri, North Hambyong Province, weather conditions will be “overcast beginning 3 April, with rain or snow falling on the afternoon of 4 April, and heavy cloud cover on 5 April also.”

    However, ROK forecasts have a bad reputation with citizens as “often inaccurate.”

    Oh. All right, then.

    Another Yomiuri article, this time posted to the English site, says that intercepting the missile could be difficult for Japan because, of course, no one knows exactly where it will go. This handy diagram is appended:


    If you’re having a hard time reading that, the red lines represent paths in which the rocket falls on land in Japan–the solid line if it’s the first booster rocket to separate, the dotted line if there’s just not enough thrust off the launchpad and the whole thing flops.


    Posted by Sean at 20:26, March 27th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Make due preparation for North Korea missile tests.”

    In response to the North Korean ballistic missile test, nominally [for] an “artificial satellite,” the government has convened a security meeting and confirmed a plan to intercept the missile if it falls over Japan’s territory or territorial waters; Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada has for the first time issued an order, predicated on the Self-Defense Force Law, to destroy it.

    Prime Minister Taro Aso instructed [attendees] at the security meeting to “be vigilant and adopt a firm and resolute stance.” If there is disarray in Japan, the result will only be that we’ve played into North Korea’s hands. In order to avoid that, at the stage when the launch date is imminent, and even more after the launch, the appropriate providing of information by the government will be indispensable. That point must especially be emphasized from the get-go.

    The Japanese and United States governments have declared that, even if it were an “artificial satellite,” the launch would violate UNSC Resolution 1695, which was adopted after North Korea launched a series of missiles in July 2006, and UNSC Resolution 1718, from after the nuclear tests of October that year. Improvements in the performance of North Korean missiles are a direct threat to the U.S. and Japan.

    Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton warned that “this will affect the six-party talks revolving around nuclear issues, and [North Korea] will end up paying high compensation.” If North Korea ignores the warning and forges ahead with the launch, a debate will be raised at the UNSC [over measures that] include sanctions.

    On the other hand, the Spokesperson for the DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs [stated] that, if the Security Council makes an issue of the “launch of an artificial satellite,” then “denuclearization will be set back, and we will adopt the necessary strong measures,” implying a resumption of nuclear testing. This development reminds one of 2006, with its series of missile launches and nuclear testing. That’s possibly due to expecations that the scenario in which the U.S. government did a 180 [and pursue] a path of conciliation after the nuclear testing.

    That switch to a path of conciliation is linked to the refusal [to allow] inspection during denuclearization, and to the new missile tests. If we consider these facts, it is necessary for not only Japan, the U.S., and South Korea, but also [all other] participants in the six-party talks, including China and Russia, to be sure of their resolve not to repeat the mistake.

    The Japanese phrase used at the end there is 過ちを繰り替えさない, which echoes–I can’t imagine this is a coincidence, given that it’s part of the last sentence of an op-ed about nuclear weapons–the inscription on the Hiroshima memorial: 安らかに眠って下さい/過ちは繰り返しませぬから (“Rest in peace, for we will not repeat the mistake”).


    Posted by Sean at 10:02, February 27th, 2009

    I’m apparently getting slack, because I didn’t look out for this aspect of the Aso-Obama meeting, which had been toyed with a bit beforehand:

    It turns out that North Korea and the global financial crisis were not the only topics on Prime Minister Taro Aso’s mind during summit talks Tuesday in Washington with President Barack Obama.

    He also tried to sell the U.S. leader on Shinkansen technology; Obama’s reaction to the pitch was also keenly awaited back in Japan.

    Aso’s pitch to Obama likely came after lobbying by Japanese railway companies eager to join in a plan being pushed by California for the United States’ first high-speed rail system. It is estimated to cost 3 trillion yen to construct the system, with plans calling for partial operations starting in 2020.

    Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), attended an international conference on the environment in Los Angeles in January.

    He played up the advantages of the Shinkansen, saying “among high-speed trains, Japan’s bullet trains emit a small volume of carbon dioxide and the trains also cause comparatively little noise and vibration.”

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is setting up a group to promote bullet train exports that will include members from trading companies and JR Tokai and East Japan Railway Co. (JR East).

    A specialist from the ministry’s Railway Bureau will be permanently based in the United States.

    California’s provisional high-speed rail plan is, I have no doubt, as porky as any other such proposal, but at least it’s a region in which HSR actually makes sense. Like the Northeast Corridor, the SAN-SAN belt is long and narrow but short enough for it to be reasonable to expect plenty of people to make a trade-off between air speed and rail thrift. (Not sure what happens when you factor in the subsidies.) So, of course, is Japan–especially if you’re not going all the way from Sapporo to Fukuoka, which most people aren’t.

    The bullet train in Japan really is a boon, and so is its newer cousin in Taiwan, which opened two years ago after a string of bidding and construction hiccups. It would be a bad idea for the US to go overboard on the boffo ground transportation projects, though…especially if federal money means Amtrak could be involved.