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    Camp on campus

    Posted by Sean at 09:18, August 30th, 2006

    The Advocate‘s publishing arm is getting into the college rankings act (via Michael):

    Since 1992, the Princeton Review, has ranked the 20 schools that it considers the most and the least “gay community accepted.” [Here’s the list.–SRK] This year, the review ranked New York University as most gay friendly and Notre Dame as most inhospitable.

    Steele points out that the Review’s gay-friendly rankings are based on student opinion, while his guide is based on quantifiable data.

    Harriet Brand, spokeswoman for the Review, said the survey of 115,000 students is more compelling because students offer a more accurate, ground-level gauge of a campus’s climate.

    I have to side with Harriet Brand here–and not just because of company loyalty. Numbers of courses listed in the gay studies department, dollars of funding for gay student organizations, and the like are presumably what The Advocate is quantifying–The Boston Globe doesn’t say–but they only tell part of the story. “Gay-friendly” depends on perception. I’d be willing to bet that there are quite a few public colleges that have funded gay and lesbian programs but where gay students don’t feel particularly comfortable. And there could be institutions at which lots of little identity-politics-driven organizations don’t exist but students of many kinds study comfortably alongside one another. In any case, potential applicants now have at least two resources, compiled using complementary methods, to draw from.

    Insurance rate hikes to fund asbestos payouts

    Posted by Sean at 08:13, August 30th, 2006

    Who decided that it was more important to let corporations continue to use types of asbestos fibers long recognized as unacceptably dangerous elsewhere? The Ministry of Health and Welfare (at it was then). Who gets to pay for it now that it’s a health care nightmare? Everyone. No, really:

    In an unprecedented move, the government will require all registered businesses in Japan to pay a combined 7.38 billion yen annually over four years from fiscal 2007 to help pay redress to people with asbestos-related health problems as well as deceased kin, sources said.

    To accomplish this, the rate of workers’ accident insurance will be raised at the roughly 2.6 million businesses that are being targeted, the vast majority of which have no connection whatsoever to asbestos.

    The funds will be used to cover asbestos-related medical costs for people living near plants that used the cancer-causing substance as well as to provide compensation to bereaved family members, the sources said.

    The government estimates that 76 billion yen will be needed by fiscal 2010. Of that amount, it will earmark about 40 billion yen to cover the huge number of applications for redress filed in late fiscal 2005 and 2006. It said 9.05 billion yen will be needed annually for fiscal 2007 and thereafter.

    An insurance program has to make a major payout, and premiums go up. That’s how it works. There’s nothing really remarkable here in that sense, I know. But this story is yet another sad indication that there were deep systemic problems in the federal government at the very Japan Inc.-era high point when it was being worshipped by so many Western commentators.


    Posted by Sean at 07:35, August 14th, 2006

    Aw, man–so it’s like, this morning, I’m steering the barge as usual, minding my own business, when all of a sudden these power lines jump right out in front of me:

    A massive blackout Monday cut electricity to 1.4 million homes in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, temporarily paralyzing transportation systems and trapping dozens of people in elevators.

    Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a crane on a barge in the Kyu-Edogawa river hit power lines at the border of Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward and Urayasu in Chiba Prefecture around 7:30 a.m., cutting electricity to 14 of the capital’s 23 wards as well as areas of Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures.

    Power was restored at 10:44 a.m. as temperatures climbed above 30 degrees, according to TEPCO.

    My office is closed Mondays, and Atsushi was here for a pretty busy weekend, so I slept in this morning. I do recall surfacing vaguely at 8:30-ish to wonder whether the two hours for which I’d set the air conditioner to keep running some time after the sun was already bright had elapsed already; but the clock next to my bed is the traditional kind, and I didn’t think to try the lamp. It wasn’t until I came into the living room and noticed all the LED-display clocks blinking at me that I realized the power had gone out. And even then, I figured it had been something local until I opend up the Nikkei and saw this.

    The looks of incredulity on the faces of NHK reporters was a sight to behold, too. Personally, I found my attention drawn by this detail:

    TEPCO said there are two power lines, one of which is supposed to act as a backup in case the other goes down. But both were damaged by the crane.

    I’m no systems engineer–and I can see how they can’t be across town from each other–but doesn’t having the redundant power lines close to the lines they’re backing up kind of maximize the possibility that they’ll both be damaged at once?

    As someone I know through the office pointed out this afternoon, who needs terrorists?

    Long shadows

    Posted by Sean at 23:53, August 5th, 2006

    My thoughts on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing haven’t changed much over the last two years. The number of survivors who remember the end of the war has been gradually decreasing, since the average life expectancy for that age group in Japan is around eighty; but how to think about the war remains, of course, a big sticking point in East Asia.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso has been saying and saying that pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine shouldn’t be a diplomatic or election issue, but he’s aware that the problem isn’t going away. His proposal for lessening the controversy is to make the shrine non-religious:

    Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s personal proposal for a policy to resolve the Yasukuni Issue, to be released on 8 August, has been revealed. The chief recommendation is that the Yasukuni Shrine voluntarily dissolve its religious corporation and make the transition to a special corporation administered by the state. Since it would become then become a non-religious national memorial facility, it would actually drop “shrine” from its name. Without infringing on the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, [the move would] create an environment in which it would be easy for the emperor and prime minister to pay their respects. The goal is also to open a path toward the separate enshrinement of Class A war criminals.

    Of course, Aso isn’t a leading candidate for prime minister in next month’s election. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe made a discreet visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine on April 15, sources said, but the leading contender for prime minister again waffled around the potential election issue.

    They said he arrived at the shrine dressed in a morning coat. He did not use his official car, but signed his name as “Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe” in the shrine’s guest book.

    He used his own money for the offering to the shrine.

    Abe, a hawkish politician who has supported Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, said Friday that a trip made in such a manner would not be considered an official visit.

    “I pray (at the shrine) for the souls of the war dead who fought and died for the country, and to show my respect,” Abe told reporters. “My feelings remain unchanged.”

    When asked if he would visit the shrine if he became prime minister, Abe said, “I’d like to keep my feelings just as the way they are.”

    As an attempt at euphemism, I think that last part kind of backfires. What gets the Koreas and the PRC exercised is, after all, the sense that those running Tokyo do not really see Japan’s wartime aggression as wrong. That Prime Minister Koizumi visits the shrine in an official capacity adds extra sting, I don’t doubt, but it’s exactly the “real feelings” of politicians that are the chief subject of worry.

    So good

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, July 29th, 2006

    I’m kind of hors de combat on this one, but I’m a fan of good-natured lustiness, and Kim du Toit and Mark Alger have been posting about which women singers they think look and sound sexy. (I’m surprised Dolly didn’t pipe up at BTB about her own charms–I’ve always kind of wondered what she sounds like.)

    The topic has also come up recently because of this new R&B honey–is she being touted as the Second Coming in the States, too? I like the song. Really. But the hype is already making me hope she takes her platinum earnings and retires to a South Pacific islet tomorrow so we can go THREE CONSECUTIVE SECONDS without hearing about her.

    I mean, really, PR types…must you keep using the same damned script, with no modification whatever? “She has a voice that sounds wise beyond her years and a Stevie Wonder-like flair for writing tunes that recall the heyday of ’70s soul! Her stunning debut album, Come Away with the Hardline on How Life Is According to Mica Keysizm, causes rooms full of critics to fall to the floor in paroxysms of ecstasy!* It’s set to be the year’s biggest crossover hit! Her singing style recalls Billie Holiday but establishes a modern, youthful point of view that’s all her own! She’s got the passion of Aretha! And the sophistication of Roberta! But, like, the quietly compelling Roberta, not the tastefully boring Roberta she turned into after Feel like Makin’ Love!”

    All right, already. We get it. Observing that a contemporary soul singer owes a debt to Aretha is like observing that gravity pulls lead shot downwards. And it seems somewhat condescending to be frothing over the fact that the newest chick singer you’ve signed actually has a personality.


    * Yeah, I know Terence Trent d’Arby isn’t a woman, but he was put through the same sort of jaws-of-death hype mill as I’m talking about.

    The magic number

    Posted by Sean at 22:47, July 27th, 2006

    Now that former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yasuo Fukuda has bowed out, current Minister of Finance Sadakazu Tanigaki has announced his candidacy for LDP president in the election two months from now:

    His campaign platform consists of pledges that his administration will (1) normalize relations with neighboring nations, (2) rebuild strong ties within the [East Asian] regional community, and (3) begin the first stages of fiscal restructuring–his “three resolutions.” Regarding the current state of Japan-PRC and Japan-ROK relations, he criticized Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s approach to diplomacy, stating, “Relations are abnormal. It is undeniable that the reason is the Yasukuni Shrine issue.” He also emphasized that “in terms of foreign relations, it is necessary to conduct ourselves in such a way as not to go stirring up domestic politics or nationalist sentiment in foreign countries.” He called for the establishment of an Asia Hotline that heads of state could use at any time to contact one another.

    His fiscal restructuring plan includes a doubling of the consumption tax. Great.

    Shinzo Abe is still, of course, the front-runner, and there have been no indications that his supporters (or the analysts and talking heads who think they’re speaking for them) see Tanigaki as a particular threat. I do realize that Tanigaki was speaking in a specific context and has the specific task of distinguishing himself from Abe in bold strokes, but in terms of policy, I always worry when a politician has a list of ad hoc prescriptions for dealing with hot-button issues but doesn’t bother to articulate the set of principles from which he derived them. (That means I spend a lot of time being worried.) You don’t have to agree with all of Koizumi’s beliefs to appreciate that he has the vision thing in a way the political operators surrounding him do not.

    Sin of omission

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, July 26th, 2006

    The responses to this post by Steve Miller at IGF are, I think, instructive. The point of contention is this:

    I guess they meant well. But publishing this ad in newspapers, showing that the usual gang of leftwing activists, liberal politicians and big-labor leaders (and some progressive religious folks) support marriage equality made me bristle. In my view, if big labor is for it, then it certainly can’t be good. I think many who aren’t on the liberal left have the same visceral reaction.

    The issue isn’t whether the big-guns unions do good things for their members; it’s how the positions their representatives take as political entities are perceived by voters as part of a pattern. At least, that’s what I thought the point was. But the would-be refutations provided in the comments consist largely of statements that unions are forces of saintliness within the workplace, that gays who have worked within them are heroic warriors for justice, and that any criticism of the reflexive left-ward tendencies of gay advocacy can be lumped in with the most hysterical anti-leftist ranting.

    It’s a shame that Miller doesn’t usually get into the fray in comments threads, because amid all the inter-queen class warfare, his point is being misinterpreted and therefore not dealt with.

    It’s true, as some have pointed out, that most of the signators to the ad have no perceptible political position–assorted elected officials and church leaders of unidentified affiliation. And the rest? Let’s see: We have labor leaders, Kim Gandy of NOW, Norman Lear, and Melissa Etheridge. One signator is also pricelessly identified as the founder of “The Spiritual Spa and Holistic Healing center.” (Wonder what goes into the facials there?)

    The problem isn’t that these people were included. It’s that only these people were included, giving the average reader the perfect excuse for deducing vaguely, before turning the page, that supporters of gay marriage comprise no one who isn’t along the urban/dilettante-celebrity/union/lobbyist liberal axis. We can argue over whether that perception is unfair, but Miller is right to point out that it’s stupid in PR terms to be feeding into it.


    Posted by Sean at 09:47, July 22nd, 2006

    We’re getting toward the second half of summer, though it’s been rainy and relatively cool in Tokyo over the last week and a half or so. When the sun begins beating down mercilessly again, we’ll all feel like Saigyo:



    michinobe ni / shimidzu nagaruru / yanagi kage / shibashitote koso / tachitomaritsure

    Saigyou houshi

    Just off the pathway,
    spring water flowing through the
    shade of the willows–
    if only for a short while
    I will pause and rest

    The priest Saigyo

    This is one of those poems that people scratch their heads when Japanophiles go ga-ga over. While the Japanese (not unjustifiably) have a reputation for aestheticizing obliqueness, if not downright obscurantism, some of their best art is fearlessly limpid. That’s especially true of the poetry of Saigyo, who favored concrete images with a direct appeal to the senses.

    Part of the impact is in the burbling consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel quality of sentences composed entirely of native Japanese words. (Sinitic compounds tend to break up the flow with rounded, drawn-out syllables.) The sibilant shes and hard-aspirated ts can be harsh in some contexts, but in the final two lines of the above waka, there are so many of them that they have a lulling effect–like a brook being channeled through a pile of rocks, or like those unidentifiable gentle snapping sounds you hear around you in the dry grass in late summer. Saigyo gets in both the heat and the respite from it. More poetic, if less effective, than just scooting indoors and turning on the air conditioner.


    Posted by Sean at 03:13, July 20th, 2006

    Like something out of one of those nature-run-amok horror movies from the ’70s, this is:

    A swarm of jellyfish shut down a coolant system at a Japanese nuclear plant, forcing the power company to temporarily lower the output of two reactors, a news report said.

    Chubu Electric Power Co. lowered output at two reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant in central Japan after jellyfish interfered with the filters of a tank used to take water from the sea, Kyodo News agency reported.

    The two reactors ran at about 60-70 percent of capacity for three hours on Wednesday while workers removed the jellyfish, Kyodo said, citing company officials.

    No radiation leaked outside the compound, according to the report.

    That last detail makes a nice change from the usual incident-at-a-nuclear-facility news we get.


    Posted by Sean at 03:09, July 20th, 2006

    Latest safety scandal in Japan: Manufacturer Paloma Industries has produced on-demand water heaters (the usual type in housing here in Japan) that have been linked to several carbon monoxide poisonings over the years. You know the script for these things by now, don’t you?

    In Act I, we learn of a product defect that has endangered multiple users, perhaps even causing multiple deaths. (This report has the latest figures):

    Major appliance maker Paloma Industries Ltd. said Tuesday it found an additional 10 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by its gas-operated water heaters that killed five people.

    The company also said four of the total number of cases were caused by the deterioration of safety devices through long years of use.

    Cases involving the Nagoya-based company’s heaters increased to 27 from the 17 initially revealed by the industry ministry.

    In Act II, the plot thickens as we discover that the company knew about the problem for years:

    Paloma Co. apparently knew that fatal carbon monoxide poisoning caused by its instant water heaters, which killed 15 people between 1985 and 2005, was linked to irregular repair work done by a technical arm of the Paloma group, as early as 1988, contrary to its explanation at a press conference Friday that the company first found out about the poisoning problem in 1991.

    A letter Paloma sent to its offices around Japan on May 24, 1988, stated that “sporadic problems involving imperfect combustion in our gas devices have been reported lately,” and instructed employees to “never conduct” irregular repairs on the safety devices of heating machines.

    The letter, which reveals Paloma knew about the link between CO poisoning and irregular repair work three years before a fatal poisoning occurred in Nagano Prefecture in 1991, was referred to in a Sapporo High Court ruling in February 2002.

    The letter also called on the related offices to “never run short” of safety device replacement stock for the heating machines. The fact that Paloma mentioned inventory shortage in the letter suggests the company was aware that the lack of proper replacement parts had prompted repairers to conduct irregular work on the devices.

    In Act III, we learn that action might have been taken earlier if failures to communicate within and among government bodies hadn’t kept information from flowing from those who held it to those who could have done something about it:

    Two Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry gas divisions failed to consult with each other on the danger of inappropriate modifications to on-demand water heaters made by Paloma Industries Ltd., despite its predecessor, the International, Trade and Industry Ministry, having issued a brochure warning of the danger of such tampering, it was learned Wednesday.

    The ministry created the brochure for liquefied petroleum gas businesses in 1993 after several fatal accidents made clear the possible consequences of such modifications.

    According to METI’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s Liquefied Petroleum Gas Safety Division, which has jurisdiction over liquefied petroleum gas, MITI’s liquefied petroleum gas safety section showed serious concern over a spate of carbon monoxide deaths linked to such modifications in Nara and Kanagawa prefectures in 1991 and 1992.

    Upon discovering liquefied petroleum had been used in each of the incidents, MITI commissioned the government-affiliated High Pressure Gas Safety Institute of Japan in Minato Ward, Tokyo, to produce about 50,000 copies of an informational pamphlet on the topic in March 1993.

    Exeunt? Well, not quite yet. There’s one death for which the statute of limitations for professional negligence hasn’t expired. It’s being investigated now.