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    Posted by Sean at 00:32, December 10th, 2005

    Joel at Far Outliers links to a discussion that compares Japanese kamikaze pilots with today’s suicide bombers. He notes a strange inconsistency:

    Notice how the Japanese are presented as the victims, and those winning the war as their “oppressors”? Exactly when, during the half-century between 1895 and 1945 did Japan switch from being oppressor to victim? In 1895? In 1904? 1910? In 1931? 1937? In 1941? 1942? 1943? Yes, that’s it, at precisely the moment when they began to lose they became the victims, despite the appalling number of casualties they continued to inflict on themselves and others by not conceding defeat.

    Yeah. Funny how that works.

    We had a little money once / They were pushing through a four-lane highway

    Posted by Sean at 23:38, December 9th, 2005

    I would just like to thank all you generous taxpayers for giving money to my Lehigh Valley hometown for expenditures vital to the continued viability of national transportation. This is from an e-newsletter from my congressman, Charlie Dent:

    Also in Emmaus, I presented a check for $440,000 from the Highway Bill that will upgrade signals at two railroad crossings in the borough. I also presented officials from the Borough of Catasauqua $880,000 from the Highway Bill to fund a long-needed extension of Second Street, replacing the dangerous intersections at Race and Lehigh streets. This project is vitally important to the transportation needs of the entire Lehigh Valley.

    I grew up in the Borough of Emmaus blocks from the railroad crossings in question. I can assure you that neither of them is on an interstate, or even a particularly major PA state highway. It’s hard to imagine anything more properly local than railroad crossings on two-lane residential streets in municipalities of under 15,000. The Catasauqua part, related as it is to transportation around the airport, could affect traffic patterns with a somewhat wider scope, but again, I don’t think it has anything to do with I-78. The 15th District got a total of $56.1 million dollars from the highway bill this year.

    SDF deployment extension approved by cabinet

    Posted by Sean at 10:55, December 9th, 2005

    The cabinet has officially voted to extend the SDF deployment in Iraq:

    The Cabinet on Thursday approved the extension of the Self-Defense Forces’ mission to assist reconstruction in Iraq for a year beyond next Wednesday’s deadline.

    “We decided to extend the mission for two reasons: Iraq is on its way toward establishing a democratic government, and the U.N. [Security Council] has unanimously decided to extend the deployment of multilateral forces there,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference after the Cabinet meeting.

    The new basic plan for the SDF’s Iraq mission states that the troops’ mandate will expire on Dec. 14, 2006. But it also indicates the deployment can be shortened should Australian and British forces providing the Japanese personnel with a security umbrella decide to pull out.

    Prior to the Cabinet meeting Thursday, Koizumi had a series of meetings with leaders of coalition partner New Komeito and opposition parties to obtain their understanding in extending the Iraqi mission.


    Posted by Sean at 10:49, December 9th, 2005

    Radiation is not the only thing Japanese power companies release when they’re feeling all oops!-ish, apparently:

    Kansai Electric (KEPCO) revealed on 9 December that an administrative-level employee at its nuclear operations headquarters (Mihama, Fukui Prefecture) leaked to the Internet documents related to earthquake resistance at nuclear plants. The documents had been saved on his personal computer and were uploaded through file-sharing software called Winny. The company stated that no information in the documents would cause security problems related to nuclear materials. The same day, Kenkichi Hirose, chair of the security committee at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, summoned KEPCO president Yosuke Mori and issued the company a stern face-to-face warning [to avoid such screw-ups in the future].

    If you’ve seen the Mihama facility mentioned before, you’re probably recalling the accident last year when an under-maintained pipe ruptured and blasted a dozen or so unfortunate plant workers with super-hot steam. Five of them died. This weeks information leak appears to have been unimportant in terms of the content of the documents, but given the track record we’re looking at here, it could very well be indicative of more serious and wide-ranging organization problems in KEPCO’s nuclear division.

    ”Incompetence, inadequacies, and possible corruption”

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, December 9th, 2005

    Attention-grabbing lead paragraph of the week goes to the English Asahi :

    The land ministry Thursday started a series of inspections to determine the extent of incompetence, inadequacies and possible corruption in an industry sector responsible for the safety of people’s lives.

    One tiny thing to be grateful for is that this is connected to the Aneha scandal and not, you know, some entirely new revelation about a whole different industry:

    Twelve inspectors of the ministry’s Housing Bureau started searching Japan ERI Co., the nation’s largest building inspection company, in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, at 9:30 a.m. [The article is dated 9 September.–SRK]

    The ministry wants to determine why the company failed to act on a warning in 2004 that former architect Hidetsugu Aneha had faked a structural-strength report for a building in Tokyo.

    Japan ERI Co. is not the same company that was warned by an on-site construction manager that reinforcements at the ground level were insufficient, so we have yet another organization to finger for not listening to alarms that had in fact been sounded.

    Naturally, some people are taking this opportunity to cast aspersions on privatization:

    Some experts say these private-sector companies have a difficult time being objective in their inspections. That is because real estate developers are not only the inspection companies’ clients, they are often their shareholders.

    And this is different from the government’s being in bed with major keiretsu, their banks, and major constructions firms…how, exactly? Obviously, there were problems with monitoring here. Whether they stem from the very fact that the government privatized some of its inspection functions is a very debatable point, especially considering that when the fraud-filled documents did, in fact, hit the desks of government construction agencies, they let them pass through without challenging them. Another good thing to bear in mind is that, while it’s not exactly classic amakudari, the inspectors now being targeted for investigation have interesting origins:

    “We will completely cooperate with the ministry’s inspections,” Takahide Suzuki, the Japan ERI president, said in a statement. “By doing so, we want to regain the people’s trust in our company.”

    Japan ERI employs 165 building inspectors, including 102 who had worked in local governments.

    Other companies said they do not have the manpower to keep pace with the demand.

    “We have no other choice but to employ people who worked as construction superintendents in local governments,” an official said.

    Just keeps getting better, huh?


    Posted by Sean at 13:10, December 8th, 2005

    Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. Good to reflect on in these times.


    Posted by Sean at 23:10, December 6th, 2005

    God, American men are hot. Every time I come home, I spend the first day wondering what the hell possessed me to move abroad. Yes, Atsushi is more than enough reason to stay abroad, but I didn’t meet him until I’d been in Japan for four years. Cute young American guys generally get handsomely weathered in middle age; Japanese guys just kind of bloat and get blotchy. (Atsushi won’t. He doesn’t smoke or drink, and he has me to take care of him. Which is the bigger factor in keeping him vibrant is not for me to judge.)

    I got to my old roommate’s office without incident. Picked up the keys, came to the apartment, and met the two chihuahuas he bought for his lovely fiancée for her birthday. They huddled in a corner and kind of growled at me for a bit, after which they fell blessedly, if sullenly, quiet. Then, inexplicably, about forty minutes after I arrived, they seemed to look at each other and say, “Oh yeah, that’s right–we’re supposed to be yappy and annoying dogs.” Thus began the querulous top-volume yelping, which continued even after I dumped my jet-lagged body in the bedroom for a nap. They didn’t stop until my friends got home hours later. I know this not because they kept me awake–a freight train right down 37th Street couldn’t have done that–but because every time I did hazily resurface they were still at it.

    Up at 3:30 for my morning flight. Yippee!

    It took an hour / Maybe a day

    Posted by Sean at 20:41, December 5th, 2005

    This morning’s trip in proved yet again my Narita Airport Law: k = (time before Narita Express departure that I get a cab)(amount of traffic). I ended up on the platform a half-hour early, playing my usual game of “how long can I go without reading?” in order to avoid exhausting my books and magazines before the twelve-hour flight even begins. It’s a shame Joanne Jacobs’s prose is so brisk and readable; I have this feeling I’ll be done with her book before we’re over Alaska.

    One of the MILDLY ANNOYING things about this trip, I discovered when packing last night, is that I had to prepare for two completely different environments. My meeting is in the Caribbean, and our parent company is super-casual. I’ll probably be doing most of my business in ripped jeans and a T-shirt–if not, indeed, by the pool in a swimsuit, dripping. Back at home, where it’s winter, is where (paradoxically enough) I’ve been invited to a few dinners I have to dress for. I generally like to travel light. Oh, well. At least this time I didn’t leave my entire bag of o-miyage on the floor of my living room the way I did a few years ago. It was fun trying to figure out what to do with fifteen envelopes of green tea when I got back to Tokyo.

    Speaking of conserving things, this will be the first time I find out whether my iPod battery is as short-lived as they legendarily are. At least if it lasts four or five hours it’ll be fine for the second leg of my trip. I’ll be landing at JFK on Tuesday, spending the night in Murray Hill with my old roommate, then taking off for the Dominican Republic at 6:00 the next morning. If you’re going to scramble you’re bio-clock, don’t be doing it halfway, I say.

    See everyone later in the week.


    Posted by Sean at 03:54, December 4th, 2005

    I’m not going to have much time to spend with people when I go home, but one of the first blog-related acquaintances I made was Tom at Agenda Bender, and I’m hoping to get to see him during my approximately five minutes in Philadelphia. Almost exactly two years ago, he posted this. I have a feeling I’m going to be rereading it the first week of every December his blog is still up.

    Foreign Minister Aso in Washington

    Posted by Sean at 00:57, December 4th, 2005

    There’s no report of any substantive agreement, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington yesterday. Japan related its plan to extend the SDF deployment in Iraq and also emphasized that the restructuring of US military facilities here in Japan is running into opposition from the places affected (such as Okinawa). Rumsfeld would like to see China fulfill a constructive role in world society, including transparency about its military spending. Japan affirmed that it would like to expand its own international role and would prefer, really, to avoid being blown up by the DPRK. So everything is as per usual; if there are interesting developments, I assume we’ll hear about them.