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    Posted by Sean at 00:39, March 6th, 2006

    There was a demonstration over the weekend against the transfer of current Futenma base facilities to another location in Okinawa:

    More than 30,000 people rallied in Japan’s southern Okinawa island Sunday against plans to relocate a U.S. air base to another area on the island, demanding that the facility be moved outside the country, a news report said.

    Organizers said an estimated 35,000 people participated in the two-hour rally in the city of Ginowan, site of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Kyodo News agency said.

    “The city of Ginowan strongly demands that Futenma … be shut down immediately and relocated outside of Japan,” Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

    The plan to move the base–agreed to by Tokyo and Washington in October–also calls for the transfer of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa over six years to the U.S. territory Guam and the shifting of some operations to other cities on Japan’s main islands.

    Okinawa is Japan’s poorest prefecture, and areas surrounding US military installations there (well, and elsewhere, too, but especially in Okinawa) tend to have a love-hate relationship with the bases. Our personnel create entire economies that would disappear if they left; on the other hand, entertainment districts that cater to servicemen have higher incidences of street crime than do surrounding areas, and when there are off-base accidents (as in the crash of a helicopter in Okinawa a few years ago) military commanders can come off high-handed. While I support our military policy, obviously, when it comes to specific accusations of misconduct, it can be difficult to know whom to sympathize with.

    Speaking of Okinawa-related characters of dubitable sympathy, I can only assume the translator who came up with the first paragraph of this piece for the Yomiuri was laughing so hard he or she could barely type:

    Technical Councillor Mamoru Ikezawa, the former third most senior official at the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, was aware of the agency’s illegal bid-rigging practices, but was unable to stop them–and ended up playing a leading role.

    According to informed sources, Ikezawa told agency colleagues that he would put a stop to “illegal practices.” This was an apparent reference to agency projects that included the relocation of facilities of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

    Ikezawa, 57, and two other agency officials were arrested in late January and have since been indicted on suspicion of rigging air-conditioning project bids.

    Late last month, prosecutors served the three with fresh arrest warrants on suspicion they organized rigged bids for projects at U.S. bases in Yamaguchi and Nagasaki prefectures.

    Ikezawa is suspected of putting a higher priority on amakudari–wherein retiring government officials get jobs with private firms or public-service corporations in sectors related to their previous occupations–than on putting an end to bid-rigging.

    “Ended up playing a leading role”? Well, yes, I suppose it’s safe to say that means he “was unable to stop them.” I don’t see any reason to doubt that he was sincere enough about his desire to put a stop to collusion and amakudari. However, he made his choice, and I don’t see what point there is to the it’s-the-thought-that-counts qualifications now. (The Japanese version of the article, which doesn’t contain much more information than the English version, is here.)

    Clean burning

    Posted by Sean at 22:52, March 5th, 2006

    It’s been a while since there was much news about the disputed East China Sea gas fields, but another round of talks begins today:

    At the third round of talks, Japan proposed joint development of gas fields at four locations that straddle the midline boundary [between Japan and PRC territories] and run along a fossil fuel vein, including the Shungyo field. China continues in its stance of not recognizing the midline as the boundary and, in addition, has taken the position that the Shungyo field is in “non-disputed waters” (in the words of the Foreign Minister) on the western side of the midline and that resources there are China’s.

    All kinds of progress, huh? The Asahi has an English report that’s already much more detailed, though of course no specifics have emerged yet from this fourth round of talks. The new talks are in no small part the work of the new Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry:

    Since succeeding Shoichi Nakagawa as trade minister in October, Nikai has taken a more conciliatory stance.

    Nakagawa had attempted to pressure China by granting test drilling rights over the disputed East China Sea gas fields to a private Japanese firm.

    Nikai argued that even if the rights were granted, private companies would not be able to do any work if China maintained a confrontational stance.

    Nikai’s repeated calls for more talks apparently convinced China that compromise is possible.

    China finished laying a pipeline from Chunxiao [I’m calling it “shungyo,” the Japanized pronunciation for 春暁, though the Japanese name is supposed to be “shirakawa”.–SRK] to the Chinese mainland in October. Experts thought China was about to start production, but there has been no noticeable work since then. Government sources say China has likely halted operations temporarily to save face for Nikai.

    So the consensus, such as there is, seems to be that this particular round of talks will accomplish demonstrations of goodwill but no actual progress on exploration and drilling policy. Next time, maybe?


    Posted by Sean at 09:42, March 5th, 2006

    Whew. Fever-pitch week. Friend whose boyfriend dumped him a few weeks ago decided to break Rule #1. He–not making this up, guys–showed up at our hang-out looking for my friend. Found him. Proceeded to tell him, “You know our friendship is very important to me.”

    “It’s not that I don’t care about you–you know that, too, right?”

    “I miss having you around.”

    “You have no idea how hard it was for me to break up with you.”

    You can imagine the rest. I showed up about halfway through this particular scene and took a post on the opposite side of the bar until it became clear that it was Intervention Time. I put on my best clueless-American-being-heartily-friendly act and wandered over. “Evan! [blink-blink] Have you been here the whole time? I just got here ten minutes ago.” I gave him the chance to give me the look that says, “Now isn’t a good time” and got the look that says, “Help!” Luckily, he’s a strong-minded guy, so he just needed an hour or two of being listened to. I still entered the weekend kind of drained.

    Luckily, Atsushi was here, which always improves things. When we went out for dinner last night, we were, purely by chance, given a private room at the restaurant. That was not only nice but also useful, since when the waiter brought our lamb ribs, he deposited moist handtowels next to the plates and said, in that gravely expressionless waiter voice, “To enjoy it to the last morsel, you’ll have to pick up the bones and eat the meat off them.” So Atsushi and I got to sit on opposite sides of a table and watch each other hungrily sucking meat off bones. Put me in a very…you know…primal mood.

    Speaking of primal–or rather, atavistic–I also polished off While Europe Slept . Yet another reason to be glad Atsushi was nearby, since reading deeply disturbing stuff like that is always easier when your man is reassuringly at the other end of the sofa. And it was disturbing, though a lot of the reportorial details are familiar if you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last several years. Some passages also seem to be adapted from this essay of Bruce Bawer’s a while back (not that that’s a problem). In a way, the flat-out atrocities and terrorist acts weren’t as rattling as, say, this passage on p. 57, which made me snarf my Earl Grey:

    In many Western European countries, indeed, some laws are different for natives than for immigrants. For native Swedes, the minimum age for marriage is eighteen; for immigrants living in Sweden, there is no minimum. In Germany, an ethnic German who marries someone from outside the EU and wants to bring him to her to Germany must answer a long list of questions about the spouse’s birth date, daily routine, and so forth in order to prove that the marriage is legitimate and not pro forma; such interviews are not required for German residents with, say, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds, for it is assumed that their marriages have been arranged and that the spouses will therefore know little or nothing about each other.

    I live in a country in which there are different rules for natives and foreigners, but here–quite justifiably, as far as I’m concerned–the laws favor, you know, the natives. (I try to hold out hope that the normally-exacting Bawer is misinterpreting something in the German legal code, but the phrasing he uses neither is ambiguous itself nor seems to refer to the kind of policy that could easily be misrepresented.) Sheesh. (See also this by the Grand Stander.)

    Added on 6 March: My parents and I kind of have an arrangement whereby they treat Atsushi like one of the family but we don’t discuss gay stuff head-on. I’m amused, though, by the way their Christmas present to him always manages to seem subliminally racy. Here’s this year’s:


    Yes, yes, “Intercourse, PA” is a cheap schoolboy joke. But still, my parents live at the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Every town significant enough to have a crossroads has some little collective of farms that makes jelly and relishes. There’s nothing easier than NOT choosing the ones made in, of all places, Intercourse.

    Of course, my thinking is probably affected by last year. This was what arrived for Atsushi for Christmas 2004:


    As I said at the time, to the extent that I could form words while laughing, “I would call this a coded message of approval for our relationship, but I’m guessing there wasn’t quite that much subtext intended.”

    If I had met you on some journey

    Posted by Sean at 14:11, March 3rd, 2006

    As Michael says, The Onion knows exactly what it’s doing…only…every straight man I’ve ever encountered has finished the sentence “If I were a gay man…” with “…dude, I would so totally HAVE SEX ALL THE TIME.” I feel the omission of that particular soul cry lends a false note to the proceedings.

    But the article, now a few years old, is still hilarious.

    To switch to the comfortably out, Atsushi comes home for the weekend tomorrow. Since I have the day off and have the time to prepare something, I was going to ask him what he wanted for brunch, but I know the answer already. His favorite dish is plain broiled chicken–that’s what he always asks for, even when I tell him I’m willing to go to National Azabu to get a turkey for Thanksgiving or try to find a goose for Christmas. I like a man with an appreciation for the austere.

    Well, with pan gravy. Drippy, luscious pan gravy with way too much of the fat from butter.

    Have a good weekend, everyone.

    The tramp still vamps

    Posted by Sean at 23:40, March 2nd, 2006

    Too much time, too little to do!

    No, wait. That’s not it.

    Anyway, quick link to this Open Source radio interview with Camille Paglia about the resignation of Larry Summers from the presidency of Harvard (via Rondi Adamson).

    I haven’t actually heard her speak for a decade or so, so I was interested to hear what she sounded like at fifty-nine. Believe it or not, she’s mellowed. I mean, she talks at a more leisured pace. Of course, you can still tell she’s spent her entire life chatting with artfags–Girlfriend italicizes all her adjectives: everything is “extra-orrrr-dinary!” or “un-pah-latable!” But she actually talks slowly enough that you can digest what she’s saying now. She certainly didn’t the few times I heard her lecture in college, which was part of the fun.

    Even more, I think, than Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer, or Jonathan Rauch, Paglia gave me a feeling of assurance–her media fame was skyrocketing on the other side of the city while I was in college–that you could be bookishly gay without being either a picturesquely noble AIDS sufferer or a high-strung spoiled brat. I’m glad she’s still materializing to talk about educational reform and PC perniciousness sometimes, because the problems she was addressing in 1991 are still with us.

    All in a day’s work

    Posted by Sean at 08:12, March 1st, 2006

    So. You know when your copy of Bruce Bawer’s new book has just come from Amazon and you’re all like, Cool! I shall recline languourously on the sofa and drink tea and eat madeleines and read about what happened While Europe Slept , and Life is like, Wait a minute, there–you have people at the OFFICE who are DEPENDING on you to work LATE, and you’re like, Wah! and Life is like, Look, bitch–no GAINFUL without EMPLOYMENT…?

    Yeah, me too.

    I’m sure it’ll be great when I get to it, possibly this weekend when Atsushi’s home again and we can do the tea thing together.

    Of course, excess employment is not everyone’s problem right now. A prominent DPJ member has resigned over the whole e-mail flap:

    Following its admission that what it claimed to be an explosive e-mail was inauthentic, the Democratic Party of Japan announced Tuesday one of its executives had resigned from his post as the party publicly apologized for the accusation made by a party lawmaker about a son of the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general.

    DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Yoshihiko Noda resigned Tuesday. He told the party’s executive committee he made the decision to step down from his post in order to take responsibility for giving lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata the green light to make an allegation that turned out to be false and which resulted in a nearly two-week-long dispute that stalled other Diet business.

    Nagata, meanwhile, was suspended from the party for six months. He was also dismissed as vice chairman of the party’s Diet Affairs Committee and director of the House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee.

    An interesting cultural point is made by DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s reaction:

    “Though I’ve decided to continue in my position and make a fresh start for the party, somebody must take responsibility so I had to let the Diet affairs chief, whom I trust most, go,” Maehara said.

    At least he stopped short of “This hurts me more than it hurts you, Yoshi-kun.”

    Another resignation that may bode well for us JAL fliers was announced today:

    JAL officially announced on 1 March that JAL Group CED Toshiyuki Shinmachi (63) will accept responsibility for the corporation’s internal conflicts, step down from his post and assume the position of Chairman of the Board, which carries no right to representation; he will be succeeded as president by Haruka Nishimatsu (58). At a press conference, Shinmachi explained the reason for his stepping down: “We must attend to the situation sooner rather than later to recover [the public’s] trust.”

    Nishimatsu said, “The JAL Group is in danger of not surviving. I want to get the board and our employees on the same page in order to recover [the public’s] trust.”

    The Mainichi has an English report here.

    Shinmachi apparently considered pulling a Maehara:

    The president of the holding company of the Japan Airlines (JAL) group, Toshiyuki Shinmachi, is poised to step down to settle internal strife that began after four executives demanded he and two other top executives resign to take responsibility for the company’s poor performance, company officials said.

    Vice President Katsuo Haneda and Senior Managing Director Hidekazu Nishizuka, who had been urged by the four executives to step down, will also leave their positions, while the company will apparently demand that at least one of the four rebel executives resign.

    Shinmachi had initially intended to propose that both of the two top executives and the rebels should be punished to take responsibility for the internal strife while he remained as president for now.

    We’ll see what happens, of course. Luckily this is all anticipatory. Unlike, say, JR West, JAL has lost trust not because of a horrifying fatal accident but because of debate and a series of bad-PR warnings from the JAA and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

    Little news from meetings with Iranian foreign minister

    Posted by Sean at 09:08, February 28th, 2006

    The Iranian foreign minister met with Prime Minister Koizumi today:

    On 28 February, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki at the Prime Minister’s residence. About the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Koizumi stated, “We would like you to do whatever you must to win the trust of the global community,” requesting an immediate cessation of Iran’s experiments with uranium enrichment and activities related to nuclear development. Mottaki responded, “We have a right to the peaceable use of nuclear power” and rejected the idea of ceasing nuclear development.

    LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe, also on 28 February, stated emphatically to a press conference, “We seek Iran’s cessation of uranium enrichment and complete fulfillment of the terms laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board so that it may avoid being isolated from the global community.”

    No surprises, no revelations–as expected. Japan has affirmed that it’s on the side of (blech) the global community, and Iran seems not to have taken Japan’s position as a sign of enmity.

    FWIW, the part I didn’t bother translating states that Speaker of the House Yohei Kono requested that Iran accept the proposal from this weekend for a joint initiative with Russia, whereby the uranium enrichment Iran needs would be attended to there.

    Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that

    Posted by Sean at 03:34, February 27th, 2006

    I’m afraid that if I don’t stop reading Jeff and Joanne, I am going to lose my mind, collar Atsushi and take him away from this topsy-turvy world to an uncharted island, where we can read poetry and history beneath a shady lean-to woven from leaves and I can feed him on green mango salad and roasted fishies and we can live out our days in peace without constantly being reminded how many TOTAL NINNIES there are abroad in the land.

    Apparently, Oriana Fallaci is now a fascist. Who knew, huh? Cathy Seipp says that a friend of hers wanted a copy of the English translation of Fallaci’s latest book and thought, foolishly, that City Lights would be an apt place to pick it up:

    So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

    “No,” snapped the clerk. “We don’t carry books by fascists.”

    Now let’s just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading “banned books.”

    Yet his store won’t carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It’s particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.

    Strangest of all is the scenario of such a person disliking an author for defending Western civilization against radical Islam — when one of the first things those poor, persecuted Islamists would do, if they ever (Allah forbid) came to power in the United States, is crush suspected homosexuals like him beneath walls.

    Not only is it helping free speech not to stock a book by a noted free-thinker, but it’s apparently liberating to a teenager to tell her she should shut her mind to a major academic subject. Joanne Jacobs retains her ever-unflappable demeanor while posting a critique of this incomprehensibly dumb Richard Cohen column:

    I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time–the only proof I’ve ever seen of divine intervention–somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

    Here’s the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know–never mind want to know–how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later–or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note–or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

    The column is over a week old and has been whaled away at by several education bloggers linked by Joanne. Most of them have done an admirable job of defending the usefulness of algebra. But another aspect that deserves attention is Cohen’s corresponding (and self-congratulatory) balderdash about writing.

    Certainly, too few people can write well–no one can gainsay that point. However, there are far too many people who think that style is a substitute for substance. The world now has plenty of English and sociology and history majors who got by by producing essays using the approved template–organized into paragraphs, featuring footnotes in MLA style, relying on the occasional po-mo wordplay to score points for insouciance–without being schooled in cold, hard facts. These are the people you encounter whose arguments sound great when you first hear them–because their internal logic is sound–but fall apart a few hours later when you have time to test them against real life and think, Wait a minute! She never even CONSIDERED the possibility that…. The more facts you have in your mental database, the more likely you are to have some sense of what you don’t know and, thus, to be able to diagnose and address your own assumptions. Pooh-poohing the rigidities of math and overpraising the flexibilities of writing is a good way to reinforce the too-common American belief that you can bluff your way through anything.


    Posted by Sean at 03:05, February 27th, 2006

    The Iranian foreign minister is now in Japan for talks; the build-up was covered in the Japanese press, though there never really seemed to be any developments interesting enough to comment on. In any case, Japan has normal relations with Iran and buys quite a bit of its petroleum, so it has a lot of incentive to smooth some of the recent conflicts over:

    Iran and Russia on Sunday agreed in principle to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture, a breakthrough in talks on the U.S.-backed Kremlin proposal. But it was not known whether Iran will entirely give up enrichment at home, a top demand of the West.

    Japan, which relies on Iran for much of its oil imports, has been keen to play a role in resolving the standoff. Tokyo also has a special link with Mottaki, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1994-1999.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was slated to meet Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Aso later Monday. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also was to greet Mottaki, the Foreign Ministry said.

    This TEPCO page puts the percent of Japan’s 2003 oil imports that came from Iran at 16.1%.

    The Nikkei doesn’t have one of its quickie five-line stories posted about the visit, which suggests that the meeting with Aso hasn’t yet produced anything quotable.

    The friendly skies

    Posted by Sean at 02:51, February 27th, 2006

    The US may give some of the Yokota airbase back to Japan. The issue is airspace rather than land:

    Each day, about 470 commercial flights in and out of Haneda and Narita airports must take alternate routes to avoid airspace controlled by the U.S. military’s Yokota airbase, according to a calculation by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

    Some flights detour around the space and others make steeper ascents than needed.

    The number of flights affected will rise to about 650 in 2009 with more traffic at the airports, the study said.

    The extra fuel cost is 8 billion yen a year, likely to climb to 10.9 billion yen in 2009.

    If a southern section of the airspace were returned to Japan, the extra cost and the flight times could be minimized, the report said.

    While Japan’s population isn’t rising, the number of flights in and out of Tokyo is. The closest Japan has had to a civil aviation disaster since the Otsuka crash in 1985 was in 2001, when two JAL jets came within thirty feet of colliding. Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara blamed the strictures on flightpaths imposed by having US military airspace so close to Haneda and Narita, though it must be noted that weird ascent and descent patterns were not exactly the only problem on display:

    Transport ministry officials said the post-accident report filed by the DC-10 pilot, Tatsuyuki Akazawa, 45, also indicated the two planes missed each other by a whisker. “Altitude difference little, lateral distance none,” Mr. Akazawa’s report said.

    The incident occurred early Wednesday evening. The Boeing Flight 907 was ascending to a cruising altitude of 11,300 meters, while the DC-10 Flight 958 was descending from 11,900 meters to prepare for landing at the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, transport ministry officials said.

    Both planes were equipped with the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, a computerized device that would alert pilots when they were flying too close to each other.

    Ministry officials said air traffic communications records kept at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center, based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, show that air traffic controllers repeatedly used wrong flight numbers in telling the pilots of the two airplanes to change course.

    The official in charge of the two flights, a 26-year-old man in his third year of training as an air traffic controller, first realized that the flight paths of the two planes were too close and initiated warnings to the two pilots under the supervision of a 32-year-old controller who served as his coach.

    According to air traffic communications records released by the transport ministry, the male air traffic controller twice ordered the Boeing 747 to lower its attitude and the DC-10 to turn right.

    As there was no response, the coach broke into the radio channel and told ” Flight 957″ to immediately lower its altitude.

    The record shows that the coach again misspoke the flight number when the Boeing 747 pilot radioed in that there was an alert on the aircraft’s collision avoidance system and he was descending. “Roger, flight 908,” she said, in a message meant for the Boeing flight 907 pilot.

    Moments later, the DC-10 flight 958 pilot reported to air traffic control that alert also sounded on his collision avoidance system, and the trainee controller responded, “Roger, flight 908.” “The situation was extremely dangerous,” Mr. Watanabe told air traffic control after the near-fatal collision was averted. Analysts said that had the Boeing not dived to avoid a collision, “the worst ever accident in aviation history” could have occurred.

    The Boeing 747 was carrying 411 passengers and 16 crew members, and the DC-10 had 250 passengers and crew members on board.

    Poor communication about the collision avoidance system was the major cause of the midair collision over Germany in 2002, though the air traffic controller involved was undone by circumstances and didn’t blurt out non-existent flight numbers.

    Speaking of changes in US military facilities, several thousand Marines may or may not be moved out of Okinawa as part of the Futenma restructuring plan. They would be relocated to Guam.