Japan from the inside out

Archive for July, 2011

Ichigen koji (35)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 31, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

This crisis will most assuredly be overcome. I think Japan can definitely achieve a utopia. I believe in Japan and the Japanese.

– Novelist Komatsu Sakyo, just before his death this month at the age of 80, speaking of the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. Komatsu was the author of the award-winning SF novel, Nihon Chimbotsu (Japan Sinks). Published in 1973, the book sold more than four million copies and was turned into a television program and a movie.

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Who do the Chinese remind you of?

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 30, 2011

SO, who do the Chinese remind you of? In the most recent post on his website, historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote, “China 2011 reminds me a lot of Japan 1935.”

Prof. Hanson is certainly capable of making a convincing case to defend that assertion, but others focus on the same time period while looking to a different continent. For example, here’s Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea discussing Chinese rhetoric in defense of the country’s aircraft carrier program, while quoting a Reuters article that quotes a Chinese publication:

Does anyone else find this sort of rhetoric eerily similar to what the Nazi press said about Britain and France in the 30’s?

China’s humiliations at the hands of Western powers in the past centuries “left the Chinese people with the deep pain of having seas they could not defend, helplessly eating the bitter fruit of being beaten for being backward,” said a front-page editorial in the paper.

Military analyst J.R. Dunn quotes American Sen. James Webb:

Senator James Webb (D-VA) told David Gregory on Meet the Press three weeks ago that he thinks the US is facing a “Munich moment” with China in Southeast Asia. While no exact analogy is on the horizon to the original Munich moment – Neville Chamberlain proclaiming “peace in our time” after agreeing with Hitler to the partition of Czechoslovakia – Webb’s larger point is that China’s career of aggression in the South China Sea needs checking.

The historical parallel she sees is not Munich, however:

Perhaps a better analogy would be calling the current situation in the South China Sea a prospective remilitarization-of-the-Rhine moment. In any case, Webb is right that there are things to worry about.

These analogies aren’t new. Wrote novelist and author Mark Mordue in 2008:

I have no doubt these Games are the most significant and politically dangerous since the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Hitler and the Nazi Party sought to use those Games as a propaganda tool for resurgent German nationalism and racist notions of Aryan superiority, and with it Germany’s right to rule the world.

Historical equations, of course, always lack nuance. But the parallels between Berlin 1936 and Beijing 2008 remain odiously apparent. Chinese nationalism is rampant, the poison by which the so-called Communist regime sustains its right to govern today. Underlining it is the racist Han Chinese sensibility that Tibetans, Uighurs and other minorities are lower-grade humans and “barbarians” — as are we Western “long noses”. Talk to any semi-educated Han and you will hear all about China’s phenomenal 5000 years of culture; dig into that talk and you will understand how the past 100 years of Chinese turbulence and misery are the fault of the West.

Now take another look at that excerpt Joshua Stanton found.

We already have a good idea of how the Chinese would treat the world’s barbarians — i.e., the rest of us — because we already know that their treatment of Chinese citizens constitutes a crime against humanity.

Chai Ling is an eyewitness:

Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department have both properly criticized China’s one-child policy for contributing to infanticide. It is a charge that even some of the propagandists in China’s totalitarian regime would not dispute. The government plasters a number of chilling slogans throughout China that are short on nuance. “Better 10 graves than one birth,” reads one slogan. “Abort it! Kill it! Terminate it! You just cannot give birth to him or her,” reads another official sign written on a long red banner stretched across the entire side of a building.

She adds:

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in just 10 years there will be 30 million to 40 million more boys than girls under the age of 20 in China. To put that number into perspective, China will have as many young men who will never marry — “or bare branches” — as the entire young male population of the United States. This does not bode well for a country where the crime rate has almost doubled in the past 20 years.

It’s worth accessing that link for the explanation of the accompanying photograph alone.

It’s also worth remembering that the Chinese authorities put Liu Xiaobo, the country’s first Nobel laureate, in jail just for signing this.

Heck, it’s no longer possible to sing a song in a Chinese bar without looking over your proverbial shoulder:

Next time you visit a Karaoke bar in China, you will be contributing to the government’s data bank on what song is causing more people to swing and tap their feet and which ones are flops…Though the ministry did not specifically mention it, the system will also help the government keep a watch on whether any one is playing songs that are politically dangerous or espousing anti-national causes in Tibetan dominated areas or the Xingjian region, which is witnessing a violent separatist movement.

It wasn’t so long ago that some principled Americans stood up to the Soviet Union. To ask whether today’s Americans are capable of taking the same principled stand, however, is to answer the question. Here’s Prof. Hanson again:

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines have one eye on China, and one on Washington—and therefore are increasingly terrified. One of three things will happen: our shaky allies will demand a higher U.S. profile in the region, and new assurances of safety under the U.S. nuclear umbrella (all quite unlikely); or they will go nuclear and, unlike North Korea, their missiles will work like Camrys and Kias; or they will make face-saving accommodations with the Chinese that will result in a new version of the old Co-Prosperity Sphere…

Richard Fernandez explains why an American response is unlikely:

It has now become quaint, even Quixotic, to put the interests of one’s country over personal and party concerns. “Love,” John Le Carre once wrote, “is whatever you can still betray.” And what can moderns still betray? It is now far easier to turn one’s back on an unloved birthplace, the affection for which is now regarded as a kind of bigotry. Today’s political class is far more comfortable owing allegiance to itself. What affection it has left over has never been weighed (in) the crucible of choice. And maybe all that amounts to is a hill of beans. Perhaps that is why concerns about “Munich” have so little resonance today.

He also explains the Americans’ practical concerns:

(O)ne of the reasons the administration may be reluctant to resist China more vigorously is because they are looking to borrow more money from Beijing to make “investments” and stimulate the economy for 2012. A key reason why the administration wants assurances from Congress that it will not hinder the further servicing and expansion of debt is to calm China, which holds so much of it.

It’s dangerous to look for symbolism in all the wrong places, but this story comes close enough to symbolizing the current Sino-American relationship to merit awarding the author a cigar:

(T)he fastest growing and now No. 1 export category is–“Scrap and Trash.”

According to data provided by the U.S. International Trade Commission, Chinese imports of U.S. cast-offs (scrap metal, waste paper, and the like) surged by an eye-popping 916 percent over the 2000-2008 period, with most of that expansion occurring after 2004.

Perhaps not many observers will judge this a suitably glamorous role for America to assume on the global stage. But one might take comfort in the thought that if there is one thing that Americans still excel at producing, it’s trash.

Just as some in the West once thought the Soviet threat was right-wing militarist hysteria and that threat to world peace was All Our Fault, some think the Chinese should be emulated rather than criticized and confronted. Michael Barone describes the phenomenon:

The dwindling number of readers of The New York Times were treated Wednesday to a column by Thomas Friedman extolling China’s “one-party autocracy,” which, he told us, “is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people.”

China’s leaders, he reported, are “boosting gasoline prices” and “overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power.” All, of course, in the cause of reducing carbon emissions, which so many luminaries assure us are bound to produce global warming and environmental catastrophe.

The word limit of his column apparently left him no space to regret the Chinese one-party autocracy’s Internet censorship, forced sterilizations, imprisonment of political dissenters and the like. Even so, Friedman declares that “our one-party democracy is worse” than the Chinese model.

Never mind that the idea of Green China is a load of codswollop:

(I)ntermittent wind and solar cannot compete with coal or gas, because they are not reliable sources of dispatchable, peak-demand power, and never will be unless someone invents a magic battery. For investors, this is why a gas power plant promises higher returns than a wind or solar facility, even allowing for the subsidies wind and solar power enjoy. And this is why China is going to continue to build fossil fuel energy over renewable energy at a ratio of better than 50 to one for the foreseeable future, even as they create a new export industry to sell wind turbines and solar panels to politically driven markets like ours.

The author, Stephen F. Hayward, also notes that this is part of a pattern:

(T)here are reports that many of China’s new windmills aren’t even connected up to their electricity grid; like their ghost cities with empty high rises, office buildings and malls, China apparently is putting up windmills just for practice.

It isn’t accurate to use the term “apologists” for people who think China is a positive rather than a negative model:

China has proven that birth restriction is smart policy. Its middle class grows, all its citizens have housing, health care, education and food, and the one out of five human beings who live there are not overpopulating the planet.

We’ve seen this before, too. Here’s Malcolm Muggeridge on the antecedents of Friedman and Diane Francis, the author of the Financial Post article:

It’s something I’ve written and thought about a great deal, and I think that the liberal mind is attracted by this sort of regime. My wife’s aunt was Beatrice Webb, and she and Sidney Webb wrote the classic pro-Soviet book. “Soviet Communism: A New Civilization.” And so, one saw close at hand the degree to which they all knew about the regime, knew all about the Cheka [the secret police] and everything, but they liked it.

I think that those people believe in power. It was put to me very succinctly when we were taken down to Kharkiv for the opening of the Dnieper dam. There was an American colonel who was running it, building the dam in effect. “How do you like it here?” I asked him, thinking that I’d get a wonderful blast of him saying how he absolutely hated it. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “You never get any labor trouble.”

This will be one of the great puzzles of posterity in looking back on this age, to understand why the liberal mind, the Manchester Guardian mind, the New Republic mind, should feel such enormous sympathy with this authoritarian regime.

It’s no longer a puzzle for people with the eyes to see, because now we have more data extending over a longer period of time. They feel sympathy with those regimes — any of the kissing cousins of the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, or today’s China — because that is who they are and that is what they want. Thomas Friedman and Diane Francis know that Liu Xiaobo was jailed for demanding precisely the same rights they already have. It is reasonable to conclude that they think those rights aren’t as important as progressivist efficiency. That’s another one we’ve seen before:

(Woodrow) Wilson believed that under progressive government the individual must “marry his interests to the state.”


Nothing even in Europe equaled the degree and intensity of American political absolutism during its brief period in the Great War. General Ludendorff acknowledged American initiative in this respect when, in a last great effort at German victory, he instituted “War Socialism.” Lenin’s War Communism, with its thicket of centralized agencies of regulation or ownership, was indebted to what America did first and so successfully. Mussolini’s early structure of Fascism in Italy, with its powerful national agencies controlling factory production, labor relations, the railroads, took a leaf from the American wartime book of three years earlier. The blunt fact is that when under Wilson America was introduced to the War State in 1917, it was introduced also to what would later be known as the total, or totalitarian, state.

After all, look at their heroes:

(I)magine if a Republican had held political prisoners like Wilson did, or interned Japanese Americans the way FDR did.

Speaking of their heroes, perhaps that’s another reason the American heirs of Wilson tread so lightly with the Chinese:

President Obama ostentatiously invoked the (racist eugenicist imperialist) progressives of the University of Wisconsin as an inspiration for his campaign.

Is there a better description of China today than the three words inside the parentheses?

Here’s another description of the Chinese, courtesy of Mark Steyn:

If the IMF is correct (a big if), China will be the planet’s No. 1 economy by 2016…The world’s economic superpower…will be a communist dictatorship with a largely peasant population and legal, political and cultural traditions as alien to its predecessors as possible.

Now imagine this “economic superpower”, a nation whose political behavior at home and abroad consists entirely of the most dire negatives, standing astride the globe as a colossus — when the term of the winner of the next U.S. presidential election ends.

How will it end with the Chinese this time? Here’s what Joshua Stanton thinks:

All of this nationalist rage will probably have a terrible ending, and the potential damage to humanity is even greater than it was in 1939.

When it’s starting to look like it all might happen again, when credible people are writing that “China at times has felt like the end of the world”, hoping that he’s wrong isn’t enough.

Who do the Chinese remind me of? A lot of people.

This song is dedicated to all the fascistos from the flower in the middle of the universe and their clique of useful idiots

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Ichigen koji (34)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 30, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

This person (Prime Minister Kan Naoto) has shown not the slightest shred of knowledge, dignity, historical awareness, or humor required of a national leader. The slovenly ones are those who chose a person of this character as their president — the Democratic Party of Japan.

– Keio University Prof. Agawa Naoyuki

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From gray to green

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 29, 2011

THE CITY OF KITAKYUSHU has long been one of Japan’s major industrial centers. The concentration of industry in the area was the reason the Kokura district was the intended target of the second atomic bomb. Cloud cover on the day of the mission sent the pilots to their backup target of Nagasaki further to the south.

By the 1960s, the city was one of the four largest industrial zones in Japan, and the pollution was horrific. The first time I saw it, through the windows of the Shinkansen in 1988, the smoke and the factories reminded me of Chicago or Gary, Indiana.

But the city had already begun to take steps in the early 70s toward a drastic remedy of its problems, however. Their objective was to become the world capital of sustainable development, and that link describes some of the steps they’ve taken.

The world is taking notice. Yesterday, the OECD announced the selection of Kitakyushu as the first green growth model city in Asia. Noted the Kyodo report:

“It is the fourth city selected for the OECD’s Green Cities Program, following Paris, Chicago and Stockholm.”

The city is also generous with the expertise gained from its experience. People from around the world, particularly those associated with local governments, regularly visit to see what’s been accomplished and what they can learn. Representatives from the city travel throughout Asia, and China in particular, to promote region-to-region ties in the environmental sector. (Of course it’s also good for local business.) A day doesn’t go by without another story appearing in the Nishinippon Shimbun, my local newspaper that covers northern Kyushu, about the city’s efforts.

Those among the all-seeing Western punditocracy ready to declare Japan down for the count might want to glance in the direction of Kitakyushu to discover just what the nation is capable of. These stories are consigned to the back pages or the skipped-over sections of the newspaper or website news aggregators, but they’re often more important in the long run than the ones on the front page.

Kitakyushu’s name literally means “North Kyushu”, but it’s in the south (west) of Japan.

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Ichigen koji (33)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 29, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

At this rate, I don’t care what happens to the Democratic Party. I don’t care if it falls apart. If things continue as they are now, the result will be a situation that causes severe damage to the national interest.

– Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, the founder of the Democratic Party of Japan

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Soliciting bids

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 28, 2011

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is soliciting bids from private sector contractors for a job that some people view as tantamount to monitoring thought crimes on Twitter and the Internet.

No, they won’t be spying on political dissidents guilty of thought crimes as defined by the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, legislation that was abolished on 15 October 1945. One provision in that law was to keep tabs on thought criminals, reform and rehabilitate them, and promote their ideological recantation and return to society. In our more enlightened age, METI will be using public funds to pay contractors to scour cyberspace for nuclear energy dissidents.

This report comes from the Safecast website (English and Japanese both), put together by a group of people who are monitoring radiation levels throughout Japan to provide the public with more “robust” information, as they put it. Here’s their explanation:

“Last Friday, July 15, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (METI), Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, opened a call for bids (tender) regarding the “Nuclear Power Safety Regulation Publicity Project”, for contractors to monitor blogs and tweets posted about nuclear power and radiation.”

Safecast also provides an English translation of the Japanese language bidding specifications. (The original Japanese pdf file is here.):

“The Contractor is required to monitor blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues as well as Twitter accounts (monitoring tweets is essential) around the clock, and conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors, and to report such internet accounts to the Agency.
When the Contractor becomes aware of such incorrect and inappropriate information, it is required to publish correct information in Q&A form on the website and Twitter account of the Agency, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary. The Agency is to be notified of ANY consultant experts and engineers in advance.
The Contractor is required to keep the Agency well informed on the internet accounts and keywords used in the blogs and Twitter accounts that are posting incorrect and inappropriate information. The Contractor is required to maintain (a) sufficient number of personnel for around-the-clock monitoring. The Contractor is required to submit report(s) on internet accounts via CD-R.”

To be sure, it is the legitimate function of government and regulatory agencies to provide accurate information that tempers public hysteria and panic. That’s particularly important for life- and health-threatening incidents, such as those involving the safety of nuclear power plants. Lord knows the news media isn’t about to cool society’s jets; it’s in their financial interest to fan the frenzies and highlight the vapor trails with neon exclamation points.

Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto understood this once upon a time. People still remember that as Health Minister about 15 years ago, he scarfed down a plate of daikon radish greens to reassure the public about food safety during an e.coli scare. (Unfortunately for the nation, he still remembers too; the incident gave him the idea that media grandstanding was the only way to communicate with the public.)

In addition, the Safecast group membership seems to include a few of the eternally vibratory activistas incapable of keeping their hands out of their pants and pressing their proverbial hot buttons. That behavior does tend to attract attention, but only in the way that former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko once observed that a dog licking its underbelly attracts the attention of passers-by. For example:

“Since March 11, 2011 it has been frequently reported that YouTube videos containing footage or comments unfavorable to Tepco or the Japanese government have been removed within several hours of their posting. Examples of offending YouTube videos include excerpts of TV shows with controversial comments, footage showing smoke emitted from the nuclear reactors, an ex-Tepco employee speaking on his Fukushima experiences etc.

“Also, “agents” would show up in engineers-only internet forums, and interrupt with completely off-base pro-nuclear politically motivated comments. Likewise, Twitter accounts with too much content regarding nuclear power and radiation issues have been disrupted.”

What the author of the post doesn’t mention — or doesn’t know — is that Japanese TV networks are aggressive about forcing YouTube operators to immediately pull excerpts of news broadcasts that wind up on the site. I’ve put up two YouTube links to news reports from Japanese TV in the past, and both were taken down by YouTube within 24 hours. One showed then-DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio in doofus mode trying to explain that the party’s 2009 election manifesto he had unveiled a few days before with the hoopla dialed to 11 wasn’t really the party’s manifesto after all. (They discovered Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru didn’t like it). The other was a film clip of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China after the Senkakus incident.

They also provide no explanatory detail on Twitter accounts being “disrupted”, nor even what that is supposed to mean. And let’s not get into that bit about “agents” in Internet forums. Yes, that tactic was often used in 2008 by “agents” of America’s Democratic Party scared shitless of Sarah Palin. Their instructions were to masquerade as conservatives appalled by the Palin nomination as vice-presidential candidate and claim they were going to vote for Obama as a result. (They fooled no one and were the source of much amusement.) Putting that aside, are the Safecasters so sure of themselves they can’t believe a legit engineer in an Internet discussion group would disagree with them?

If so, what would they make of this?

“Japan’s already reeling economy could be crushed by over-reaction to the Fukushima disaster, warns radiation scientist T.D. Luckey in the summer 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

“Japan should not repeat the mistake that Russia made in the tremendous unwarranted expense of its reaction to Chernobyl. As Mikhail Gorbachev understood too late, ‘The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago…was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.’

“Japan should not act on the false presumption, shared by most of the world’s press, that all radiation is harmful, Luckey states.”

Meanwhile, the current edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai features an article on what that publication charges is the government’s manipulation of information and suppression of debate about nuclear power. While the article may make the same claims (I haven’t read it), that magazine’s distribution is not being disrupted. It’s on sale today at convenience stores, bookstores, and train station kiosks throughout the country.

There’s also this:

“Dr. Onoda is sure that his blog will be blacklisted soon.”

I’m sure his blog, which also promotes his medical practice, will not be blacklisted at all, but if conspiracists talked only about what actually happened instead of the double-secret broadcasts beamed straight to their tinfoil hats by the big-eyed beans from Venus, they’d have to find some other way to fill the frightening silence.

Further, let us not forget the perpetual civil war within Japan for control of the government, fought between politicians and the bureaucrats, with combatants from both sides crossing the lines to fight for their adversaries. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is responsible for government policy at the nexus of the three sectors in its name. Consider: Prime Minister Kan proposed at the G8 Summit that natural energy sources should account for more than 20% of all Japanese energy consumption by the early 2020s, and set as a target the installation of solar panels in 10 million homes. He also wants to Japan to give up its 30% “dependency” on nuclear power. In addition, Environment/Justice Minister Eda Satsuki, who started his career in electoral politics in the same “Socialist Democrat” group as Mr. Kan, “vowed Wednesday (a week ago) to maintain Japan’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020”.

If the Kan/Eda fingerpaintings were to be accepted as real art, it would be the end of the world for Japan’s economy, trade, and industry (as we know it). It would not be surprising if METI is taking steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. Grazers in the Kan/Eda section of the political pasture often champion schemes that lead others to suspect their real motivations are to create a world of glorious global hunter-gatherer arts and crafts villages without the blunt instruments under the stewardship/thumb of an uno mundo international elite. In other words, them.

But just because people and groups of this sort are easily dismissible doesn’t mean their accusation should be easily dismissed. This is Kasumigaseki, after all. METI is the ministry responsible for regulating Japan’s nuclear power industry, but it also contains internal elements actively promoting the use of nuclear energy. In addition, let us not underestimate the bureaucracy’s conviction that it is the real government of Japan, and that from time to time they must undertake the unpleasant task of humoring the performing seals of the political class. All the Kasumigaseki ministries think they have the right to conceal and/or manage information. And while METI and the Kan Cabinet are now at loggerheads over accusations that the former is concealing information on the amount of non-nuclear generated power available, the dreary fact remains that the Kan Cabinet also started lying about Fukushima on the day the accident happened.

Some might argue that the ministry is simply gathering information, but no government or bureaucracy anywhere is capable of stopping itself from crossing the line to malfeasance in the use/abuse of that information. It is one of the reasons the opposition to social democracy is so intractable.

Then there is that inclusion of the word “inappropriate” in the bidding specifications. What is the functional definition of the word in this context, and how does METI define it? Whatever makes them look bad?

The Japanese press is unlikely to bring this up as an issue for sober discussion — surely they already know — if only because of the restrictions inherent in the kisha club system. That includes the anti-nuke Asahi and Mainichi, the latter of which is running a feature this week attempting to tie atomic power to atomic weapons through guilt by association, just in time for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries next month. The Asahi is also hawking the idea of a nuclear-free Japan in its own inimitable style, but then again, their support for nuclear power was so strong in the 1970s some people wondered if the industry had bought them off.

Don’t look to the English-language media in Japan for anything serious or sober either. The grand claims of speaking truth to power are only for consumption at media guild seminars, journalism grad schools, and trade publications. They also save it for public consumption when they’re accused of giving the left a pass on the same behavior they crucify the right for. When it comes to walking instead of talking, Weird Japan is all they can manage.

Speaking of weird, here’s the weird part of this story: Safecast could be right even if they’re wrong.

Thanks to Tony for the link.

Live in Tokyo:

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And now for something completely different…

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 28, 2011

REUTERS reports that South Korean scientists have created a dog that glows:

South Korean scientists said on Wednesday they have created a glowing dog using a cloning technique that could help find cures for human diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Yonhap news agency reported.

A research team from Seoul National University (SNU) said the genetically modified female beagle, named Tegon and born in 2009, has been found to glow fluorescent green under ultraviolet light if given a doxycycline antibiotic, the report said.

That brings up the obvious question: If people eat glowing dogs, will they glow too?

Posted in Food, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Science and technology, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Not fooled

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PUBLIC OPINION has so thoroughly poll-axed the Kan Cabinet one wonders how they’ve managed to keep their skulls intact, much less their government. Earlier this month, the latest Jiji news agency poll — perhaps the nation’s most accurate — showed the over/under for the Kan Cabinet to be 12.5% approval and 71.6% gag reflex. That’s the second-lowest approval rating Jiji has ever recorded for a Japanese prime minister; the lowest was the 10.8% result for Mori Yoshiro in April 2001 after months of media pummeling. It’s not everyone who can obliterate the sympathy and sense of unity created after one the world’s worst natural disasters, but all Kan Naoto had to do was act naturally.

The numbers are just as dismal in the other media polls, which are conducted using RDD, unlike the Jiji survey. Last week’s Sankei Shimbun/Fuji poll pegs the rate of support at 16.3%. That’s even lower than the thumbs-up rate for the unlamented former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio when he decided that taking a powder was the better part of valor.

But the most intriguing results for the Sankei/Fuji poll aren’t the responses to the question asking people what they think of the Cabinet. For example, the poll asked those surveyed whether they thought the primary objective of the prime minister’s behavior was to extend the life of his government.

Yes: 73.7%.

Mr. Kan has said the Diet’s passage of three bills are the condition for his resignation. (That a politician so thoroughly detested presumes to set the conditions for his departure suggests severe dysfunctionality both in his personality and the political system, but let’s leave that for another day.) The Sankei/Fuji poll asked those surveyed whether the prime minister should resign even if those conditions weren’t met.

Yes: 76.1%

Did Mr. Kan read it and weep? Probably not — when the going gets tough, he seems to be the type of man who gets going by doubling down on the obnoxious behavior. If there were any tears, however, he was crying in his beer. It’s been widely reported in Japan that Mr. and Mrs. Kan console themselves of an evening by popping open another Tall Boy and reminding each other that poll numbers can’t fall below zero.

People often cite the Abraham Lincoln observation that a politician can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But in the clause preceding that one, Lincoln also observed that a pol could fool some of the people all of the time.

In Japan, that category seems to be about 25% of the population.


Here’s one more — the Sankei/Fuji poll also offered a list of names and asked the survey group who among them would make a suitable prime minister. None of those on the list managed to reach double digits, which is not surprising considering the composition of the rack of empty suits nearest the top of the greasy pole. There were rumors a month or so ago that the Sengoku wing of the party was promoting Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko for the job. Only 1.8% of the respondents liked the cut of his jib.

For several years after he left office, Koizumi Jun’ichiro often received the highest ranking in similar polls. That shouldn’t be surprising either, and it wasn’t solely because of his conduct in office. Japanese prime ministers are usually selected by the other Nagata-cho hacks without the input of the public. Mr. Koizumi was chosen because the LDP was desperate and allowed the party rank and file throughout the country to vote in that election for party president.

In other words, he was the closest the Japanese have come of late to a prime minister who was The People’s Choice. But the politicos aren’t about to make that mistake again. Mr. Koizumi and his government slashed the budget deficit, unloosened the chokehold of non-performing debt on the nation’s banks without causing a financial crash, called Kim Jong-il’s bluff on the Japanese abductees and won, and set Japan Post on the course to privatization.

Of course that alarmed the flybaits of the political class. Not only did all that competence make them look bad, it showed everyone with the eyes to see just how bad they really are.

In addition, Mr. Koizumi wasn’t a social democrat and tended to favor small government, deregulation, and privatization.

And of course that alarmed the flybaits of the media class.

What you say?

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Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 25, 2011

HERE’S the headline for the article explaining Kyodo’s weekend RDD poll on whether Japan should continue to use nuclear power:

70% back Kan’s nuclear tack

Here’s the first sentence of Kyodo’s English report:

A weekend telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News found 70.3 percent of respondents support Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s call for a society that does not rely on nuclear power…

Now here’s the first sentence of paragraph 5:

On Kan’s idea for a society without nuclear power, 31.6 percent expressed support while 38.7 percent expressed qualified support for the idea.

Those 38.7% were responding to a Japanese question that translates nicely to, “If I had my druthers…”

Thus, if the headline writers had any integrity — yes, I know — the headline to this article would have been:

31% back Kan’s nuclear tack

The other 38+% are expressing the reflections from a passing cloud of emotion (as are some of the 31+%). In another two years or so, when they have again become accustomed to steel girders no longer falling from the sky, as Dashiell Hammett put it in The Maltese Falcon, that percentage is likely to be much lower. Indeed, if anyone other than the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party were in charge of the cleanup in the Tohoku region, the decline might be evident in fewer than two years (or the numbers might not be that high to begin with). Japanese reports suggest that the group with a growing antipathy to nuclear power consists chiefly of women upset with the amount of time it has taken to get the problems at Fukushima under control.

The downstairs thermometer in our house measuring the air temperature reads 31C / 88F at the moment. That’s a normal reading for Japan during the day in late July. It would be significant only if the reading were the same in late January here in the temperate zone. It is the same for this particular poll.

Give them an inch, and the news media will take it 15 miles into the next county if it suits their agenda, their fancy, or their guild’s membership requirement to exaggerate the gossip they’re paid to pass on.

That would be the real news item behind this particular story, had not everyone gotten wise to the game long ago.

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Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 11, 2011

ACHIEVING the national objective of rebuilding the Tohoku region after the earthquake/tsunami requires that the rubble from the disaster be removed first. That will be no mean feat — the events of 11 March created an estimated 25 million tons of debris, 21.83 million of which is strewn throughout the three prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima.

As of 28 June, however, nearly four months later, only an estimated 32% of the rubble had been hauled to temporary collection sites. The rest of it is still lying where it’s been the whole time. Several reasons have been cited for the lagging effort. First, the law states that private property owners, either residential or commercial, are responsible for their own garbage. Second, municipalities are responsible for handling the refuse of residential households, while prefectures are responsible for industrial material. (It is of course impossible to differentiate which is which in this situation.) Third, the immense amount of debris has overwhelmed the ability of all local governments to pay for its disposal.

It’s been apparent from the start that these extraordinary circumstances would require extraordinary measures by the government to deal with them. Such measures would include temporary exemptions from/suspensions of the law. In addition to the obvious ones, other measures could include providing temporary authorization to deal with the debris for those businesses not licensed to handle refuse, such as construction companies.

Despite the need for this legislation, and despite the opposition parties urging them to get on with it already, the Democratic Party government of Japan unintentionally modeled itself after a character from the Uncle Remus stories: Tar Baby just set there and don’t say nothin’. The difference is that the Tar Baby was created for a specific reason by a character with country smarts. That disqualifies the DPJ.

As we’ve noted before, the municipalities in the region did ask — desperately — the national government for help. The Kan Cabinet told them to handle it themselves.

Mr. Kan’s government managed to rouse itself in some sectors, after a fashion. They created a Cabinet Ministry for Conserving Electricity after the Fukushima disaster and handed the portfolio to a former model/TV personality. It was a waste of time, both the nation’s and the airwaves, because the Japanese knew what to do without any government urging at all. But they didn’t appoint a minister to handle the cleanup until nearly four months later. The man they did appoint, Matsumoto Ryu, disgraced himself in a matter of nine days and had to resign. His name is now so synonymous with mud his daughter is afraid to go to school.

After the Hyogo earthquake, it took fewer than nine days for the Socialist/LDP coalition government of Murayama Tomiichi to appoint a minister responsible for the cleanup and reconstruction.

To get the Kan Cabinet to get off its duff, four opposition parties — the LDP, New Komeito, Your Party, and Sunrise Party Japan — formulated legislation of their own to allow the government to handle the cleanup. It was introduced in the Diet by one of the LDP MPs.

Then, and only then, did the Cabinet finally agree on the bill they’ll submit to the Diet. Last week.

But they haven’t submitted it yet. Their bill and the opposition bill need to be reconciled. The opposition parties think the national government should assume all the expenses for cleanup because it is a national emergency. The Kan administration still thinks local government should pay for some of it, to be partially offset by grants.

That’s not surprising in the least. After all, they still insist on keeping their worthless child allowance payments despite the lack of money to pay for them. Voters won’t see the money the government spends on cleanup — the people in the three prefectures will just notice that somebody finally hauled the crap away. They do see the money the government deposits in their bank accounts every month, however. Thus, there’s no profit in it for the DPJ.

Even the Japanese news media has glossed over the facts of the situation. Kyodo’s article on the Cabinet’s bill devotes only part of one sentence to the legislation “the opposition already introduced”.

Among the rubble that won’t be cleared away are the articles and website postings assuring everyone that the DPJ would be so much more efficient dealing with the disaster than the “hapless” Murayama government, in the word of one academia grover writing at The Diplomat. Indeed, academics with an agenda to flog or with mochi to paint into pictures are the ones primarily responsible for this detritus. They won’t suffer for their willful ignorance, however; they’ve got tenure, and the journos will still call on them to serve as credentialed mouthpieces when they need to peddle their papers.

They also told us that the DPJ/Kan government would be the model of openness compared to the LDP, but we haven’t seen much of that line since it became apparent that Mr. Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio began lying to the people on 11 March about the 11 March Fukushima accident.

I feel sorry for those people interested in Japan who can read about the country only in the English-language media, and thereby think they know something about what is happening here.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Maoists sent the intellectuals to the countryside for a healthful stint of bracing farm labor to assist their reeducation. My reeducation program for some of the Nagata-cho flybait, however, would start with this video.

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Ichigen koji (32)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 9, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

When I was a citizen-activist, the Diet was some place off in the distance. In other words, the existence of political parties had no connection with me. I was unable to distinguish between the ruling party and the opposition parties in that far-off place. I saw them all as part of the System, including the Socialist Party.

I understood the difference between the ruling party and the opposition parties after I was elected to the Diet. The ruling party created the administration, and the opposition parties were their antithesis. My next step was to become part of the Cabinet in a coalition government as a member of one of the ruling parties. Before that, I had been unable to distinguish between the ruling parties and the Cabinet, but then I understood.

– Prime Minister Kan Naoto describing his political education in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun. Mr. Kan lost three elections for a Diet seat before he won on his fourth try.

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Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 9, 2011

THE CURRENT political situation in Japan can only be described as extraordinary. Prime Minister Kan Naoto, a man whose distinguishing traits are amorality, powerlust, and a conviction in his vindication by history, long ago lost what little claim to a mandate he ever had. Nevertheless, he has leveraged the structural flaws of the Westminster system and the endemic character flaws of politicos everywhere (a desire to retain their plush make-work positions and a fear of the electorate) to operate a de facto dictatorship within a democracy. While not an anticipated result of a Kan premiership, neither is it surprising. In his book on politics, Mr. Kan offered the novel thesis that democracies were just time-limited dictatorships.

Kan and wife: Kissin' cousins and drinkin' buddies

When stuck in a not dissimilar mess, the Romanians had a simple solution: They stood Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife next to a wall and shot them. That is not an option the Japanese would or should entertain, however, and so they are stumped.

While I continue to work on a post about last week’s events in Nagata-cho, this excerpt from the current issue of the weekly Shukan Post should give you an idea of the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing Mr. Kan inspires in his countrymen.

To set the stage: He attended a meeting of all the Democratic Party MPs on the 28th. The gathering was not going well for him; indeed, the Asahi Shimbun reported that he was jeered by some in attendance. In response, he flashed a threat to dissolve the Diet and call an election that none of them want to contest — this is his own party, remember — and then left early, pleading the demands of public affairs. (He did have a meeting with South Korean legislators, but it was not scheduled to begin for a while yet.)

“If you think you can do it (call an election), why don’t you try? The Democratic Party will of course be slaughtered, and Mr. Kan and his associates will be the first to go down. They will probably never appear on the political stage again. But a man whose thirst for power is so strong is unlikely to have the guts to take that gamble.

“Former DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro dismissed the bluff with a curt comment, ‘There’s no way he’s capable of it.’ But many DPJ Diet members think he is all too capable of it. They’ve taken his threat so seriously that they’ve backed down. As a result, this crowd, which has no confidence of receiving any support from the people, is permitting Kan to stay in office.

“It is absolutely the same for the opposition parties, including the LDP. Party head Tanigaki Sadakazu has cold feet: “It wouldn’t make any sense to dissolve the Diet right away.” Considering the circumstances of the people in the areas affected by the earthquake/tsunami, of course it would be best not to create a political vacuum, but we’ve already got a political vacuum now, haven’t we? For the people as well, starting over with a general election is by no means a bad idea. In short, the LDP has no self-confidence either.

“The prime minister who has been abandoned by the people is now out of control. The responsibility for the inability to stop him lies with the other 719 members of the Diet. There is a well-known Confucian expression that people who fail to act despite knowing what they should do have no courage. The first thing both the ruling and the opposition parties should do is stop mouthing such trivialities and simply make Kan quit. They should try to do the job the people unquestionably want them to do.

“Some Diet members justify the failure to perform their duties with the excuse of ‘(the people in) the distressed areas…’, but we wonder if any of them have ever been there. Most of the people there who have talked to reporters from this publication told them they want Prime Minister Kan to quit as soon as possible.

“If it is the case that we have a collection of 720 fatheads on our hands, we voters must also reflect on our own errors. In the coming election, talk of past accomplishments or connections will be irrelevant. Our only choice is to select politicians capable of acting in accordance with the will of the people. The current Diet members are running away from an election because they find it frightening, and all of them are worthless.

“’How about that’, laughs the Empty Kan Prime Minister as he empties one can of beer after another, ‘the people hate me, but you’re all afraid of the voters too!’.

Just who is responsible for this period of a do-nothing government?

(end excerpt)

The publication gets one thing wrong in the above excerpt, unfortunately. Japan’s Diet has a proportional representation system, which is a form of legal vote-rigging, so current Diet members could lose their seats by the most lopsided of margins and still keep their jobs if the party puts them at the top of the PR slate. Those seats are decided separately by percentage of party vote.

Some American readers might have done a double-take at the line about the prime minister and his beer, but few in Japan will. They already know he’s got a head start on the embalming process — compare his recent photographs with those of the latter-stage Boris Yeltsin, for example — and in these matters the Japanese eschew the puritanical hypocrisy of the Yanks.

The same article in the Shukan Post describes a guided tour of the prime minister’s residence that Mr. Kan’s wife Nobuko recently gave to a group of friends and associates. Here’s another excerpt:

“What caused the eyes of the invited guests to bug out during the tour was the stack of empty beer cases in the kitchen.

“When she was asked who drank that much, Mrs. Kan raised her voice and laughed.

“’It’s not easy for us to go out for a drink, you know? So we buy it in bulk from a nearby liquor store. Kan and I drink it ourselves.’

“Beer, shochu, or wine, anything is fine with Kan Nobuko. Even if her husband is passed out drunk in a corner, she’s been known to ignore him and keep drinking and chatting away. There are well-known stories that when their sons were still children, Mr. and Mrs. Kan would take them along to a small counter bar in the Golden-gai district of Shinjuku. They occupied a corner and knocked back drinks one after another.

“Having a taste for liquor is one thing, but the person who related the story of the beer cases added, ‘It wasn’t an amount that they could have drunk in a month or two.’”

One of the essential chapters to Friedrich Hayek’s essential work, The Road to Serfdom, is titled, Why the Worst Get on Top. Hayek’s focus was on the totalitarian societies of the left in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, but some of his argument is applicable to other contexts as well.

More to come.
Set ’em up, John Lee.

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Observations on the road to Götterdämmerung

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 8, 2011

WITH the prime minister steering the ship of state in the general direction of Götterdämmerung — either his own or the nation’s — I’m working on a post that requires more translation, editing, and organizing. Until then, here’s a sampling of what some people are saying.

For the sake of the people, for the sake of the disaster-stricken area, for the sake of the Democratic Party, I want the prime minister to resign quickly, by even a minute or even a second.

Watanabe Kozo, Democratic Party Supreme Advisor

The politics of toadying to voters to win votes in elections is the source of our current confusion.

Gemba Koichiro, Democratic Party Policy Research Committee Chairman

In general, Kan Naoto does not see politics as a battle over policy, but as a fight between stray dogs. He is a politician of whom it is rather difficult to say that he is normal.

– A Democratic Party senior official who wished to remain anonymous

Even the Democratic Party is unable to prevent Prime Minister Kan from turning power into his personal possession.

Nakagawa Hidenao, Liberal Democratic Party lower house MP

Show business has the actor Gekidan Hitori (literally, one-man drama troupe), and now we’ve got a prime minister who is a Naikaku Hitori (one-man Cabinet).

Koike Yuriko, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party General Council

Looking at the situation makes me think there’s a systemic inadequacy, because there’s no system for the recall of the prime minister (and Diet members). Considering the national interest, don’t we need a mechanism for recall?

Takenaka Heizo

Executives from the government and the Democratic Party come (to the devastated area) one after another, but they never do anything for us.

– A chief municipal officer in Miyagi, quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun

They talk about a tax increase, but you can’t bring up water by lowering a bucket into a broken well where water doesn’t collect.

Kamei Shizuka, head of junior coalition member People’s New Party

We’ll be in trouble if the Kansai region isn’t revitalized (by turning it into a subsidiary capital). Greater centralization (in Tokyo) would not be welcome. There’s no other city whose daytime population increases (over the night time population) by four million people.

Ishihara Shintaro, Governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District

Azumi Jun edition

There is no other way to pass difficult legislation than by discussion, including with the LDP and New Komeito. It is truly regrettable that (Prime Minister Kan) has created a situation in which we are unable to negotiate with either of them.

Azumi Jun, Democratic Party Diet Affairs Committee Chairman

I hope he (the prime minister) leaves quickly. This situation is embarassing and I can’t go home to Ishinomaki.

Azumi Jun to reporters, after he was told that he had been considered to replace Matsumoto Ryu as Reconstruction and Recovery Minister because he was from Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Mr. Azumi, a Kan opponent, viewed his consideration for the post only as a Kan strategy to extend the life of his administration.

This is truly a despicable Cabinet. Is there any value in supporting it as a party? I am truly angry. That’s all.

Azumi Jun again, before storming out of a meeting of the Democratic Party’s executive council.

We should make preparations to hold an election for party leader (to replace Kan Naoto) in August.

Kawakami Yoshihiro, Democratic Party upper house member, after Mr. Azumi left the meeting.

If we decide to hold an election, the prime minister will become a lame duck.

Okada Katsuya, Democratic Party secretary-general, objecting to the idea

The Kan administration is already a lame duck. At this rate, the entire Democratic Party will become a lame duck.

Kawakami Yoshihiro’s reply

This is even worse than the power struggles among the extreme leftists. At least the extreme leftists had principles.

Kamei Shizuka again, criticizing Azumi Jun’s criticism

That is his failure as the (DPJ) Diet Affairs head. What sort of guy would complain about the head of the house to outsiders? He should think about how people will view this.

Ishii Hajime, Democratic Party vice-president, criticizing Mr. Azumi’s criticism. Both Mr. Kamei and Mr. Ishii were originally in the Liberal Democratic Party. Readers will note the irony of the unfavorable comparison to the far left with the demand that he follow the party line and not criticize the Dear Leader in public. I used the English “guy” to translate Mr. Ishii’s yatsu, which in this case has a derogatory connotation.

A couple of weeks ago we had a video from Thailand that I thought should rank in the global top ten of unusual music videos. Here’s one to make the other look tame by comparison.

It’s called The Art of Self Defense by Josie Ho, a singer, actress, movie producer, and daughter of casino tycoon Stanley Ho, one of the richest men in Macau.

That means she can afford a plane ticket to Tokyo, where she should try that cake treatment on a certain politician there.

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The news media east/west

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

TWO DAYS ago, two reporters for the Dow Jones Newswire in Tokyo filed a report on the statements of Fukuda Kazuo, the head of the Bank of Japan’s Sendai branch, at the bank’s branch managers’ meeting. The headline reads: BOJ Sendai Branch Head: Tohoku Recovery Pace Faster Than Expected.

It’s a brief article, and here’s most of it:

“The Bank of Japan’s Sendai branch head, Kazuo Fukuda, said Monday that reconstruction in areas affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is progressing at a pace faster than he had expected at the central bank’s previous branch managers meeting in April.

“(H)e now sees positive signs that infrastructure and facilities from inland to the coastal areas “are steadily being restored,” and there has also been “emergency demand” to meet the needs of households.”

The Nishinippon Shimbun ran an article on the same subject in their 5 July edition by Yoshitake Kazuhiko. He also offers a direct quote from Mr. Fukuda in the first paragraph. Here it is in English:

“Retail businesses and plants have begun to resume operation in some parts (of the region), but entire towns have been destroyed on the Sanriku coast. It is not possible to envision reconstruction. The removal of the rubble is the most important policy task.”

I feel sorry for those people interested in Japan who can read about the country only in the English-language media, and thereby think they know something about what is happening here.

The music doesn’t start until the 1:25 mark, so move up the cursor manually.

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Ichigen koji (31)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

“All of Japan is on the wrong course. The mass media has joined with the Finance Ministry to chant, ‘There are no revenue sources’, ‘Raise the consumption tax’, and ‘Ditch the manifesto, including the child allowance’. They have a lot to answer for. I’ve told newspaper reporters that they should go to the National Diet Library and read what sort of articles their predecessors wrote before the war when Japan started down the road to war.”

– Kamei Shizuka, head of the People’s New Party, the junior coalition partner in government

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Mass media, Quotations, World War II | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »