Sunday, December 31, 2006

Some Thoughts on Saddam Hussein's Snuff Video

It took less than a day for what looks like a genuine video Saddam Hussein's execution in more or less its entirety to show up on the Internet, than linked by Matt Drudge. A few thoughts:

1. Two big bombings, each killing dozens, immediate follow the execution. But nobody can be sure if this is part of revenge outburst or just business-as-usual. And that pretty much summed up the story for me.

2. Mr. Drudge links to the Google video service. (Perhaps that YouTube purchase is already paying dividends for Google.) The video may or may not be on YouTube as well, but a word search there (as well as at the Google site) turns up so many irrelevancies that only the most obsessive surfer would take the time to wade through them all in the hopes that he (much less often she) will turn up the one video that goes beyond the MSM version. Go to the most frequently viewed/Top 100, and you'll do no better, although the list as of now (Tokyo, Dec.31, 12:30 PM) is dominated by Saddam Hussein takes. Or so they say, for compounding the difficulties are the videos that use Saddam Hussein's execution to trick people into looking at completely different content. This is not an isolated problem. Fake titles (often involving female celebrities in various states of purported undress) are used extensively to perpetrate this petty fraud. Which reminds me of the "Anna Kournikova photo" email that spread a computer virus throughout OECF in 1998… but I digress. Ebay used to let petty con-men cheat its clients out of money; YouTube and its lesser competitors lets them steal your time. I think there's an opportunity for a video-contents selection service that links to interesting, subject-oriented videos in return for watching a short commercial. Or possibly a community of volunteers - WikiTube? – who perform these services for free. Of course, the former may founder on cost, and, as for the latter, who in his right mind is going to volunteer to help bring the best of Brittney Spears to his peers?

3. I'm surprised that the Iraqi authorities took Shisaku's lesson to heart and avoided not only Christmas but New Year's Eve for all of you who obey the Gregorian Calendar. Unfortunately they chose the first day (or eve; the reports conflict, due to Western unfamiliarity with Islamic calendar) of Eid ul-Adha for the event. I'm sure that the Arabic blogosphere is ablaze with speculation about this sinister Zionist/America-hatched plot to heap abuse on the Islam Nation. Which, like most conspiracy stories, begs the question: why would they bother to go to all that trouble? (New Year's resolution memo to self: Start listening to those teach-yourself Arabic tapes immediately.)

4. It's apparently okay for the English-language MSM if it's okay for the Arabic media. Reminds me of the Masako-sama feeding frenzy in Japan after WaPo broke the story. And more generally, the JMSM following up on scandals after they've been reported in the weekly tabloids.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Talk about Them Old Times: the New Administrative Reforms Minister and His Father

Much has been made of Shinzo Abe's desire, or need, to complete the unfulfilled legacy of his father Shintaro Abe, who came this close to becoming prime minister when he succumbed in 1991 to cancer. The elder Abe was not alone in suffering that fate though. Four years later, a heart attack also silenced his contemporary and once-rival Michio Watanabe.

Mr. Watanabe had begun having health problems around the time the elder Abe died, and the LDP had gone into temporary decline during the Hosokawa and Murayama administrations. Thus, the political prospects of the septuagenarian were no longer looking so rosy in 1995 when he departed for that Great Big Diet in the Sky. But in the dry winter of 1985, between cabinet jobs, when he visited Brazil for a fortnight, he was in the prime of his health. It was then that I traveled with him and his entourage as embassy watchdog/gofer/interpreter. (I had been in Brazil for five months then.)

This was definitely not one of those Diet-in-recess "survey missions" that seem to have little effect on subsequent political deliberations. Nor was Mr. Watanabe there, as was the wont of many a politician who visited Brazil and other parts of Latin America, to curry favor with the local Japanese immigrant community from his electoral district (more broadly the prefecture-based kenjinkai). No: for his more or less annual, decidedly private trips usually avoided Sao Paulo and Rio neighborhood, where the bulk of the Japanese immigrant and business communities lived. Instead he would typically make a beeline to Brasilia, look up a couple political figures, then take a four-hour drive on a dusty road to the little town of Paracatu, in whose neighborhood a small, predominantly Japanese agricultural community prospered, and spent a couple of days mixing with the locals. He looked more like the Don back in his hometown of Corleone than anything else. And in a very real way, he was the Godfather of that community. This trip was not much of an exception; he would be making the rounds of a couple of Japanese-Brazilian joint ventures, but the last leg of the trip would definitely be the beloved immigrant community of Paracatu.

Mr. Watanabe's connection with Brazil that led to his ties to that little Japanese immigrant community in Paracatu began when he became Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Mnister in 1978. He took a serious interest in the Cerrado Development Project, which used development loans, grants and other official development assistance from Japan for an irrigation and agricultural project of immense proportions. (Note: The project itself was a success, but the overall Brazilian public and external debt grew to enormous, ultimately unsustainable proportions, and the project did not escape the fallout.) Adjacent to the Cerrado Project site but not part of the project proper, Japanese agricultural cooperatives cleared a much small patch of land and settled several hundred Japanese immigrant farmers there. But this smaller, private-sector project went through some rough patches in its early years, threatening its viability. So, to make a long story short, the farmers contacted Mr. Watanabe, who had become Finance Minster in the meantime, a loan came through from a Japanese agency, and the project was saved and was firmly on its feet by the time I had arrived in Brasilia in March 1985. Mr. Watanabe never made a big deal about this, and no wonder; he stood to gain little from immigrant feedback to his particular home electoral constituency. But he seemed to have fallen in love with those immigrants, and they with him.

Going back to my travels with Mr. Watanabe, I had never met the man, but he had a well-deserved reputation as a hothead, as quick with his brawn as with his brains, a man with a big ideas and a bigger mouth that sometimes got him into trouble. Compared to the suave, impeccably pedigreed Abe the elder, he was a noisy, gauche upstart. Or so we thought. What I saw up close was a very different side of the man.

True, his legendary ability to work a crowd was in full view when he took on the immigrant crowd. The middle-aged ladies and the elderly in particular all but drooled over him. But up close, one on one, he was retiring, almost shy at times, especially with young women, when he had to really force himself hard to make a stab at small talk. In unguarded moments during our travels, he would let on that what we saw was what we really got, he was definitely not the glad-handing type and that he had a hard time remembering names and faces. He did not go out of his way to thank us at every turn, but he never lorded it over us either. In fact, although he never said much about it, he always seemed quietly appreciative of the ways we all tried to anticipate accommodate his wishes. Two incidents stand out in this respect.

At one of our stops, we took more than an hour to check of our hotel, and the schedule had to be knocked back accordingly. Now politicians can be, if anything, an impatient, sometimes impetuous breed who believe that the Sun revolves around them and them only. He is not unusual the politician who would have bawled out the hotel management, his entourage and the government flack of the moment, on this occasion and not necessarily in that order. So imagine my relief when Mr. Watanabe merely mumbled to his secretaries, "Don't let this happen the next time around", and that was the end of it. But this paled in comparison to the next incident.

The four-hour drive to Paracatu is not a particularly scenic or, for Mr. Watanabe, an unfamiliar one. Moreover, this was the last leg of the trip, and we had been all over the huge Brazilian map. Thus, Mr. Watanabe had chartered a small twin-engine plane to fly him and his two secretaries there, and I would join them, presumably as the embassy dignitary-cum-interpreter. The rest of the entourage would drive ahead of the plane, and wait for the plane at the Parcatu airport. Now, with us at the time was the widow of a Paracatu community leader who had recently met his death on the road from Paracatu to Brazil and whose gave we were going to visit. I, in all sincerity, gave up my seat to the widow, and vaguely remember feeling good about myself for doing so.

The Paracatu airport turned out to be little more than a large clearing exposing the red, porous Cerrado soil, a gateless fence separating the airstrip from the dirt road that had taken us there, and a cabana-like bar that doubled as the airport terminal of sorts. We did not have to wait very long for the plane to arrive; first the sound of the propellers, then the plane itself coming into sight. As the plane neared to make its landing, I was distracted and looked away, so I did not see the plane as it was about to touch down. Then all of a sudden, there was a noisy rattle; I look around in surprise, to see the plane going up and away, while everybody else made a commotion. The plane soon returned, this time to land safely. When the plane stopped, we approached; and the visibly shaken secretaries were the first to emerge, then the widow, then finally, Mr. Watanabe himself, subdued, but clearly the most calm and collected of all. One good look at the plane, and we saw a slender protrusion from the fuselage had been bent; worse, one of the propellers had been bent at a sharp angle. A inch or two, one way or other, and the plane would surely have flipped and tumbled all over that dirt patch, at best horribly injuring the occupants and likely worse. The first time around, the pilot had tried to land without lowering the landing gear. He claimed that everything had indicated that the landing gear had been released the first time around. Mr. Watanabe was not amused. He told his secretaries to get to the bottom of this. But that was that for the moment. We continued on with our schedule, Mr. Watanabe acting as if nothing untoward had happened, duly visiting the grave of the community leader, enjoyed an evening cookout at one of the immigrant farmhouses, then retired to another farmhouse where a young recent immigrant couple close to the Watanabe family lived.

So, a couple of days later, we are back in Brasilia, and it nearing the time for Mr. Watanabe and his entourage to leave, their kokoro no sentaku (laundry of the heart) over. It is then that they are talking about the Paracatu accident and I overhear Mr. Watanbe say, "Harattoite yare (Pay them the charter fee)".

Bless you, Mr. Watanabe, wherever you are.

Most of you reading this blog will know that Mr. Watanabe's son is Yoshimi Watanabe, who replaced the ill-fated Genichiro Sada as Administrative Reforms Minister today. And yes, he was a member of that entourage. He handled the logistics jointly as one of two secretaries to Mr. Watanabe. The other secretary was on leave from the insurance company where he was regularly employed; as far as I could gather, he and the younger Watanabe seemed to have been college buddies. The younger Watanabe was in his early thirties then, but still had the unformed feel of someone not long out of college. His buddy/co-secretary appeared to be the slightly dominant figure in this friendship. Easy-going and good-natured, the unspoiled and youthful bachelor at the time did not display the Seisaku Shinjinrui (Policy-Wonk New Breed) gift of the gab of his later, Diet years. The younger Watanbe and I had dinner once in 1988, together with other members of the embassy who returned to Japan that year, but I haven't talked to him since.

So, this time, it's Mr. Watanabe's chance to see if he can catch lightning in a bottle. That will be difficult, if not impossible. He doesn't have an abductees issue to grab (or the issue to grab him, if you prefer to put it that way), a Koizumi to push him to the front of the line, or that Abe charm that felt so cool in small doses. That's a lot of strikes already. And, unlike Mr. Abe's previous Cabinet Chief post, the Administrative Reform portfolio will bring to bear great pressure on him to show real and meaningful progress.

(Note: I recall accompanying the Watanabes on another trip in 1986, likely after yet another of those annual cabinet shuffles that were the de rigeur of the times. I was making myself useful, I suppose. Thus, I may have conflating events from two trips.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Good News and Bad News (or Bad News and Good News): The Abe Administration Is Getting Better at Damage Control.

In a news conference late this afternoon, Genichiro Sada expressed his intent to resign as Administrative Reforms Minister.

What the administration got right: They did not let the issue linger; the end came swiftly. They averted a media and DPJ frenzy.

What they did wrong: They let him go public (albeit, as it turned out, to announce his resignation) as if they couldn't/wouldn't make the decision themselves. The Abe administration should at least have telegraphed the notion that they had already made the decision and that Mr. Sada's public appearance would be a pro forma, mea culpa public hara-kiri act of atonement.

It is obvious that the Abe administration is going up the learning curve, and fast, literally by the day. If they get any better, they can go into business as risk management consultants. If they get the chance to become any better than that, they may have no choice.

Crime Continues to Pay Dividends

Zange-banashi, or tales of remorse, used to be a popular genre in Japanese carnival sideshows. Notorious criminals with the gift of the gab, after serving their sentences, would make a living traveling with carnival groups telling their tales of remorse and caution, sometimes with props to lend reality to their tale. One popular figure was Matsukichi Tsumaki, the "Sekkyo Goto", or "Admonition Robber", who had been famous for breaking and entering, tying up his hapless victims, then giving tips on crime prevention advice to his (drum roll please) captive audience. This tradition petered out, as the carnivals themselves suffered the effects of an increasingly mobile population and the growing media and entertainment complex. The post-WW II collapse of censorship undoubtedly contributed to its decline, since the public could get their fix at will from any number of tabloids and weeklies, and, later, TV wide shows.

Now, by Way of a Freakonomics post comes Pros & Cons, a business that provides fraud prevention advice by ex-cons. And that elsewhere Nick Leeson is making a comfortable living managing a soccer club and, yes, telling his tales of caution.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Unless I've Missed Something, This Is the First Scandal to Hit a Cabinet Member

Genichiro Sata, the cabinet minster in charge of administrative reforms, is under the gun for filing a false report on his political finances (Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, Sankei, and Nikkei). It seems he reported 78 million Yen in expenditures between 1990 and 2000 for a non-existent office. Worse, during that period, the office shared the same address as the Tokyo branch of a construction firm owned by his father.

Mr. Sada had been rewarded with a cabinet post for his efforts in rounding up Diet members behind Shinzo Abe. If Professor Honma was Gennifer, then this is the Monica. Mr. Abe will survive this, but it certainly looks like a gloomy winter for his administration.

I don't think Junichiro Koizumi expected this. But I guess my question is, is he surprised?

PS: Mr. Abe has let his instincts hold sway, and has told reporters that he has received a report from Mr. Sada and expects him to investigate the situation and give an explanation to the public. He indulges the offender, and declines the role of "the decider". Wonderful man to have as a friend and neighbor.

Quickie for Slow Foreign Correspondents

This must be where your colleagues go when they desperately need a byline and are just sick and tired of writing one more piece about the right wing insurgency.

My Nukes for My Money, Sez North Korea? If you Believe This, I Know a Son of a Nigerian General…

According to the Dec. 26 Asahi Shinbun (too bad, Japanese version only):

According to Lower House member Gaku Hashimoto and others [who joined former Lower House Chairman Yohei Kono in his meeting with Chinese State Council Member Tang Jiaxuan], Mr. Tang explained that "they held heated talks that went into great depth." He stated: "During the consultations, the North Korean side said that they were "willing to dismantle the Yongbyon facilities if the US dropped its financial sanctions. They showed an attitude of a measure of concession."

And here I was, spending all weekend trying to say something about the Six-Party Talks without repeating the following:
1) Japan has de facto abductee-issued itself out of the Six-Party Talks.
2) 1) only matters if North Korea decide to take down its nuclear program.
3) 2) only happens if China and South Korea threaten to cut off economic assistance to North Korea.
4) 3) will not happen.
5) The one possible deal that would result in a measure of regional stability would be one where North Korea tacitly freezes its nuclear weapons-cum-delivery program as the US drops its financial sanctions after confirming that North Korea has stopped engaging in the counterfeiting and drug trades.

How little I knew.

The Yomiuri version tells a similar story, but cites "a person (persons?) belonging to The Association for the Promotion of International Trade, Japan (JAPIT), a Japan-China trade association that is currently headed by Mr. Kono. Mr. Hashimoto is listed as an advisor on the JAPIT website.

And here's the Mainichi version, which gives no indication who did the briefing.

Mr. Hashimoto is by all accounts a highly intelligent, very personable young man, who, although son of ex-Prime Minister Hashimoto, actually was born and raised in his inherited Okayama electoral district; and got into Keio, his father's alma mater, the harder way (i.e. college entrance exams). Perhaps something was lost in translation.

But wait…

So Mr. Kono, the Lower House Chairman and only LDP president in history who did not get to serve as prime minister, goes to China as head of a bilateral exchange association, somebody in his entourage gives a press briefing, and the only thing worthy of note coming out it is Mr. Tang's alleged take on North Korea's take on the Yongbyon facilities? That is very Good News.

Merry Christmas to anybody reading this in the right time zones.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The King and Us: Alternate Realities in the Yomiuri World

If you subscribe to Yomiuri Shinbun, you got this very brief page 4 article, which I translate for your reading pleasure:
Jordanian King Holds Talk with Prime Minister Abe
Prime Minister Abe held a talk with King Abdullah of Jordan and concerning the Middle East situation stated that "uncertainty is increasing, with the situation in Iraq worsening and otherwise". [Isn't it supposed to be "not winning" but "not losing."? But there you have it, Honest Abe.] The king responded, saying, "Japan is the largest provider of assistance [I think he means money] in the middle, and I hope that it will play an even greater role."

But a non-subscriber got this:
Japan and Jordan Collaborate on Abductees Issue and Other Matters – Prime Minster and King Hold Talk [HUH?]

To be fair, the full article, whose translation I again provide as a public service for the kanji-kanamijiri-challenged, let's the reader know that the two had other things on their mind; if fact, the bulk of the article is the hard copy version:
Prime Minister Abe held a talk with King Abdullah of Jordan.
Concerning the Middle East situation, the prime minister stated that "uncertainty is increasing, with the situation in Iraq worsening and otherwise". The king responded, saying, "Japan is the largest provider of assistance [I think he means money] in the middle, and I hope that it will play an even greater role." He expressed his intent to collaborate with Japan on the issue of the abduction of Japanese by North Korea and on UN reform

Incidentally, the hard copy people have been enjoying an extra treat, as the stunning Queen Rania has been receiving minor celebrity treatment with two photo ops in the Yomiuri pages, the latest one with her daughter, both in kimonos, with Mrs. Abe being nice to the princess. But seriously, why isn't Mrs. Abe wearing a kimono too? Shouldn't a gracious host do like this guy does? (Note: The guy in the yellow duds, bottom left, not the guy i the middle in this official White House Photo, is the Vietnamese President.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Piling on Re FY 2007 Budget Plans

It's easy to say that we (Abe) will cut new issues of government bonds in FY 2007 by more than the 4.4 trillion yen we (Koizumi) cut in FY 2006 when you consider that revenue is estimated to increase 7.6 trillion yen, right? Give the budget plan credit for returning 1.6 trillion in other borrowing tucked away in the special budget for revenue transfers to local governments, and you still have a margin of 1.6 trillion yen, right? But that's being divided between tax reduction (0.41 trillion), automatic increase of revenue transfer to local governments (0.37 trillion), rising public pension and welfare costs (0.56 trillion), and other odds and ends, right?

Well, just because something is easy to say doesn't mean it's… Okay, I give up.

While Mr. Abe has been intimating that, in a reprisal of supply-side economics, we'll grow ourselves out of this fiscal mess, it is also true that he has reiterated his commitment to taking the fat out of government as a prerequisite to taking on the revenue side of the equation. Being a lawyer, I can't vouch for my arithmetic. But the budget does not seem to bear the stamp of a Koizumi acolyte.

But what do I know. Let me know if you find an analysis that actually goes through all the figures.

(Sidebar: There's a certain amount of intellectual laziness in the way the media reports this. Most prominently, the FY 2006 supplementary budget passed by the Diet to little public notice on Dec. 21 (thanks to Professor Honma?) has quietly slashed an extra 2.5 trillion yen in public borrowing from the original budget. Arguably, the FY 2007 Abe adminstration is already 0.9 trillion yen behind the FY 2006 Koizumi/Abe administration.

Gakkyu Houkai(Disintigrating Classroom) in the LDP?

I once argued that the precipitous drop in public support for Prime Minister. Abe was media-driven and implied (stated explicitly? Too lazy to check) that much of it would have been avoidable if he'd played his cards correctly. My (decidedly minority) contention is being rendered moot by the day: in politics, unlike the physical world, perception becomes reality. Whichever came first, Mr. Abe is increasingly seen as a resistible figure. The cabinet minister for self-defense can repeatedly talk in contradiction of what must be surely Mr. Abe's wishes, the foreign minister, and supposedly a hawk at that, spouts off about ceding half of the Northern Territories before the Russians have even agreed to come to the negotiating table, the party policy chief can't seem to keep his mind off/mouth shut on nuclear weapons, and every party leader and his cousin calls on Professor Honma to do the right thing. And the prime minister does not do a thing about any of this.

Think of this as a grade school classroom, where the teacher lets a couple of kids roam, mess with their classmates, and before you know it it's too late none of the kids notice the teacher yelling what with the noise and confusion. But there's no place to transfer your kids to, because the other school across the street is in permanent recess.

The lack of an attractive alternative is actually dangerous for the LDP. Slack encourages flab.

(Sidebar: I'll spare you the details, but all the relevant facts concerning the Professor Honma mess coulda/shoulda/woulda been confirmed within hours of breaking news. I don't understand at all how this had to be dragged out over weeks. Mr. Abe needs an Isao Iijima.)

The News: Yushukan Revisited, "Paris Syndrome", and Lessons Learned during the Lost Decade

A nice counterpoint to this story about Little Nakagawa: Shrine in Japan to Its War Dead Plans to ‘Soften’ Section on China

Do you think they're preparing the way for a prime minister's visit to Yasukuni? Too bad for them China took a stand on War Criminals Class A, not the history question per se. And the Showa Emperor had some issues too.

And the rest of the news…

'Paris Syndrome' strikes Japanese

No, not that Paris. Still, I can't shake the feeling that The Onion has planted this on the BBC website.

'Hiber[N]ation' saves Japanese man

There's one guy who learned something useful.


Over lunch the other day, a friend of mine who inhabits a lucrative and leisurely ecological niche of the media alerted to me to Lucy Kellaway's column announcing her annual awards for jargon, or "Twaddle". My friend was particularly amused at her awards for email sign-offs where she came down hard on the prevailing practice (in the UK?) of ending business email with "Best". Money quote:

For some time now “Best” has been the preferred way to end a business e-mail, and very sloppy it is too. Best what, I always wonder. It’s like saying Happy instead of Happy Christmas.

I'm not so sure she gets it.

Ms. Kellaway may be too young to remember, but there was a time when people routinely wrote email entirely in the lower-case, and often neglected to sign off, let alone use a closing salutation. Nowadays, I know of only one person who insists on avoiding capital letters in his electronic missives. And most respectable people (assuming that such a concept still exists), at least in their initial stages of any specific exchange, will add a signature.

No-protocol-is-the-best-protocol was okay when cyberspace belonged to scientists, engineers and younger members of the corporate world, and executives left any typing to their personal assistants. But as the Internet grew in volume and density and underlings and assistants moved up the corporate ranks, even top executives had to swim, or sink. With this adoption of email as the preferred medium for all layers of corporate society, some form of closing salutation, not mention the sign-off, was bound to creep in and spread. In this sense, "Best" seems to be analogous to cetaceans redeveloping fins as they (re)adapted to life in the water.

As for what she sees as "sloppiness" in this instant, though, that may be here to stay. Email occupies a middle ground between the formal hard copy letter and the more relaxed, everyday telephone call (or the more extreme text messaging). That "sloppiness" looks more like an accurate reflection of the informal nature of the medium.

It is, no doubt about it, a funny column.


Blogger, in Iran: by Way of a Thank You to GD for a Free Lunch

Political Interest has frowned on my habit of picking on old men. (Nag nag nag.) Perhaps then I should insult this young man instead, and give him "a feeling of joy".

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What Mr. Abe Will Have to Be Thankful for When (Not If) the Six-Party Talks Stall

One of the five other working groups that China proposed is the WG for normalization of Japan-North-Korea relations. We are allowed to presume this covers the abductees issue. But North Korea is not in any hurry to start even the financial WG, the one agreed-to WG, which supposedly was a sop to the North Koreans for agreeing to the reopening of the talks. Thus, it is unlikely that the five WGs will get any traction, even if they do get started sometime in the not-so-near future.

After all, North Korea has gained bragging rights, China and South Korea will support its economy indefinitely, and the US and Japan have little room to maneuver. This is a recipe for stalemate. Let's hope North Korea contents itself with standing pat. China must understand the potential regional consequences of allowing North Korea to step over the viable weapons threshold. Let's hope it is able to act on that understanding if the need arises.

Perhaps it is for the better that the Japan-DPRK WG doesn't get off the ground for the time being. After all, if there is progress on WMDs, Japan will be forced into assuming the role of natural banker to North Korea. At that point, no progress will have been made on the abductees (there can never be a satisfactory accounting sans regime change), and Mr. Abe would be forced into making the unpleasant choice between accepting the abductees status quo and taking itself out of the WMD-driven process altogether.

Perhaps Mr. Abe is politically better off with a nuclear standoff in place. And, so far, events seem to be obliging him.

Governors Galore in Graduates Gallery at METI

As Yoshinobu Nisaka, METI Class of '73, coasted to victory over the Communist candidate in the Wakayama gubernatorial election, Tetsuji Mochinaga, yet another ex-METI official, Class of '83, announces for the race to replace the Miyazaki (now ex-)governor, who resigned in disgrace and has been judged guilty until proven guilty. At this rate, we'll have to start using our toes to count 'em. (Up to eight ex-METI already?)

And as if to prove that not all things come in threes, the Hiroshima Prefecture Assembly has decided to get in on the act by adopting a resolution that calls on their governor to resign. The LDP/Komeito coalition that had supported the governor since his election also agreed to the resolution… Hmm, I know the perfect ex-METI candidate, clean as a whistle, long on, um, charisma, even longer on wonk… M.T., are you reading this? There's nothing more for you to do at METI…

Seriously, Mr. Mochinaga is long on wonk, short on charisma, but he's bravely standing as the LDOP candidate. Gone are the days when you wanted to run as an independent if at all possible. Can the DPJ come up with someone credible as well?

That, of course, is the 64,000 Yen Question.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Mr. Nakagawa Keeps Talking Nuclear, in Nagasaki of All Places

Chairman Nakagawa: The US Dropping the A-Bomb Is Unforgivable Crime

Mr. Nakagawa, Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, made a speech in Nagasaki on the 17th, where he referred to the US dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and stated that "the US decision was an unforgivable crime from a humanitarian point of view", and went on to state that "atomic weapons should not be used, and I wish to do the utmost not to let it be used."

Moreover, he said that "Japan is surrounded with a slew of nuclear weapons. A country has emerged that might not hesitate at using them if they don't like the situation. Can a politician be fulfilling his role just by hoping [for peace]" and reemphasized the need for debate over possession of nuclear weapons."

This is yet another one of those tiny page two articles (in this case not even posted on the Yomiuri Japanese language webpage), translated in full for your browsing pleasure.
(Tip: When reading Japanese newspaper articles, assume unless you have evidence to the contrary that anything following a quote is an extrapolation from the comment by the reporter, and not a summary of further words by the speaker.)

Some random thoughts:
I won't disagree with those of you who are thinking, look who's talking.
This is not the best way to start meaningful discussions on what is a real, though in my view still remote, threat to Japanese security.
"Crime" is a pretty strong word, though it could resonate with many US revisionists. But "unforgivable"? Have the Jews forgiven Germany or what?
Do you think he was pandering to the pacifist vote?
Don't worry, we're not going to develop nuclear weapons any time soon. But watch out if North Korea makes further moves toward a deliverable weapons system. And I'm not talking about mounting nerve gas canisters on a Nodong.

My personal takeaway:
Mr. Nakagawa in my view is rightly seen as a hard-line nationalist. But his accusations resonate with a broader historical discontent toward the West. If you find to be one-sided and distasteful such declaratives being delivered in the context of a moral blindness toward (or minimization of) Japan's role as the aggressor, then you should surely agree with me that the popularly dominant Western narrative is not a good starting point for dealing with the world's ills either.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Aging Japanese Arabist Talks about the Taliban, and Enchants

Chatting away is a small group of mostly distinguished Orientalists in their sixties, seventies. Being neither, I listen attentively, merely interjecting a question or two, just to keep the conversation flowing.

Gradually, one of them begins to dominate the talk. He is an Arabist, but unlike the others comes from what I shall call a real world background. A robust man of now independent means, looking younger than his perhaps seventy years, he has hobnobbed and haggled with princes and prime ministers, business leaders, diplomats. And it is this, his real world experience that has us entranced, for he is relating his experience negotiating with the Taliban, to keep them from blowing up the giant stone buddhas carved out of the cliffs of Bamiyan.

But our narrator's Taliban is a far cry from the rustic fundamentalists, the fearsome allies of the Al Qaeda. Speaking fluent English, well versed in the ways of the world through CNN and BBC, they plead their case eloquently: our women are treated with respect, female doctors and female nurses at work in hospitals taking care of women and their babies; the burqa keeps out the desert sand and dust, they dislike the Al Qaeda; we got rid of the poppy crops but the UN has reneged on its promise of assistance; and of course we promise not to blow up the Bamiyan Buddhas, I'll call our feld commanders right before your eyes……

but what of the reports of girls being denied schooling? where will the next generation of female doctors come from? if the burqa is so good for the health in the desert sand and dust, why don't the menfolk wear them as well? they never kicked out al qaeda and al qaeda did take down the world trade center; the assistance that never came is certainly a shame, but they did blow up the buddhas……

But something is making me hold my tongue. Is it the presence of the learned company, whose rapture I fear to shatter; after all, this is a friendly, after-business chat, where the Arabist has chosen to regale us with his firsthand tale of the Taliban? Yes, but there is something more: the great man is speaking for himself as well: The US, at the head of the coalition of the willing (if not the able) invades Afghanistan, but it is driven at least in part by the desire for a Kazakhstan -to-Pakistan-and-India-by-way-of-Afghanistan oil pipeline. Afghanistan needs the discipline, the Pashtuns the only ones capable of doing this, the Taliban got rid of corruption and the businessmen love it… This is an echo of the East-vs.-West conflict, the grievance of the colonized, the ghost of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Harmony of the Five Peoples calling in, after all these years. (And it is this duality of the Japanese role of aggressor and its identification with the victims that lies at the bottom of our difficulties with our neighbors.) The specter has me fascinated; it is I who does not want to break the charm.

But it is getting late, and I must take my leave. The session breaks up at this, as if it had been I, and not the Arabist, who had been holding forth. Perhaps the Orientalists, not so unworldly after all by way of their endless dealing with local authorities, mini-satraps, and dictators, were not as in thrall as I had imagined.

Seasoned Pro Says Insiders think Abe Is Doing a Good Job, But Isn't Getting Credit for It. But Can the Opposition Take Advantage?

It is early in the week, the deals have been cut, and a seasoned pro is holding forth on the Abe administration. Though an insider, it is a small gathering of friendly faces, a relaxed setting, and he appears relatively free of the need to spin, or so it seemed to me. But then, do they

According to Seasoned Pro, the consensus among the insiders is that the Abe administration has been doing a good job so far. It elevated the Self-Defense Agency to a full-rank ministry, and amended the Education Basic Law, both the kind of heavy-duty legislation double that is rarely, if ever, achieved in a short, extraordinary Diet session (to choose a new prime minister). Moreover, it not only managed to maintain the temporary rate hike on the volatile oil tax (much to the chagrin of the automobile industry), but also moved a bit of that road money into the general budget, something the Great Master Koizumi could do. And he hasn’t even mentioned the Beijing-Seoul junket yet. The problem is in perception (and the Town Hall yarase (rigging) debacle cannot be totally laid at the feet of this administration), but it doesn’t help that Mr. Abe has none of that Koizumi flair for the eye-catching sound bite.

Perhaps. And this view is compatible with my contention (mainly articulated over the Narrative of the Eleven Penitents) that Mr. Abe has let the media dictate public perception, while giving them good reasons to turn against him. But, even those successes could (I’m tempted to say “will”, but I’ll defer this much to a veteran from the ternches) come to haunt him in the long—run; if his education reform package fails to address the fundamental cause of the deterioration of the public school system, and the rest of the road money fails to make its way elsewhere, be it the general budget or back in the pockets of the motorists, disillusionment will set in for good.

But for the time being, working in his favor is the economy, which continues to go through a long boomlet. This means that tax returns are soaring; next year, banks will finally dig themselves out of that deficit hole and start paying corporate income taxes again. Among other things, he can kick along the consumption tax question, hopefully beyond next year's Upper House general election.

How will these and other issues stack up as the DPJ reassembles its battered troops and prepares its challenge for the 2007 Upper House general election? The one sure bet is that barring a major scandal that hits Mr. Abe personally, and the coalition manages to maintain a joint majority, he will serve out the first three-year term.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A JCP/JSP Editorial Masquerading as News Makes Its Way on to the BBC Website

Kidding. But the headline "Japan Rolls Back Pacifist Pillars" is alarming without illuminating.. And the text does not do much to dispel the fear, as it opens with the following declaration:

"Japan's conservative government chipped away at two pillars of the country's postwar pacifism, requiring schools to teach patriotism and upgrading the Defense Agency to a full ministry for the first time since World War II."

At first glance, the BBC seems to want you to believe that this is the doing of "Japan's conservative (sic) government" led by Prime Minister Abe. But the DPJ, the main opposition party, supported both the introduction of patriotism into the Education Basic Law and the Self-Defense Agency upgrade to full ministry rank.

BBC barely acknowledges this fact, and only half of it at that, when it states that the "upgrading of the Defense Agency under the Cabinet Office to a full ministry passed Parliament without significant opposition, propelled by deep concern in Japan over North Korean missile and nuclear weapons development".

From the tone of the article, including a quote from a JCP spokesman, an unsuspecting reader will be led to believe that there is deep dissatisfaction among the Japanese public with the direction the government is taking. Perhaps. And I myself believe that current talk of education reform fails to address the core issues in the failure of the public school system. Still, to insinuate that an administration that "has suffered sharp drops in popularity polls since taking office in September over the perception that he has not paid enough attention to domestic issue" can push these measures in the face of substantive opposition during a short, usually pro-forma Diet session convened to select a new prime minister borders on the absurd.

Whichever side of the debate you happen to fall on, this article does disservice to you. The lack of any mention of Japan's neighbors' reactions, official or private, is also unsatisfactory to say the least. (Though the Japanese media does not seem to be doing any better on this count.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mr. Walsh Generally Gets It Right, Though He's a Little Late to the Ball Game.

Bryan Walsh, the TIME Tokyo bureau chief, writes about the third biggest FA story in major league baseball:

"While most Japanese players show all the flair of dour salarymen, Matsuzaka — with his spiky, sometimes dyed hair and cool self-confidence — more closely resembles the dropout hipsters who populated downbeat Tokyo at the turn of the millennium."

Really? But "spiky,…dyed hair" is far less evident among the young compared to a couple of years ago. In that sense, Matsuzaka, married and father of one, could be a little bit behind the curve as far as hipness is concerned. But that is a minor quibble.

"Japanese players who move to the majors are no longer seen as leaving Japan behind; they are seen as representing their country in the international game. It's a sign that the globalization of sport is finally penetrating this often isolationist country, that many fans here would rather watch an international game with the top players in the world than settle for a lessened domestic product."

Come on now. We may be an "isolationist country", but "globalization of sport is finally penetrating…"? But then, you weren't born when Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics. More to the point, you betray your US bias when you make this sweeping statement, since you obviously are not taking account of the pro soccer J-League. The J-League, since its inauguration in 1993, has always been supportive, indeed sometimes leaned over backwards, to accommodate the desires of their stars and superstars to play abroad (usually in Europe, preferably in the four elite national top leagues). Their fans have been no less eager to see them do well, and do not begrudge their transfers.

(Sidebar: If any group of athletes "dropout hipsters who populated downbeat Tokyo at the turn of the millennium", actually the average Joe at any time, it's the soccer players.)

Even in baseball, which has its history, the public, especially the casual fan, has always been supportive of our expats, including Hideo Nomo (the Christopher Columbus of Japanese baseball to Masanori Murakami's Eric the Red), who, in 1995, left the Kintetsu Buffaloes for the LA Dodgers under acrimonious circumstances. Japanese fans watched as much of him on his pitching days as possible on the NHK satellite channels in the early morning hours before they had to ship off to work.. The results of major league baseball games, including the incomplete records of the Mariners home games, even began showing up in the evening editions of the major dailies (except Yomiuri, who I assume feared that US baseball would erode the fan base for the Japanese game and, more importantly, the Yomiuri Giants. I may be conflating the treatment in the major dailies with what I observed in the Ichiro era, but the basic fan and media reaction was as I describe here).

I am sure there were a significant number of die-hard fans who railed at the defectors for abandoning the national side, but I suspect that much of what noise there was came from or was amplified by old school ex-pros who were managing, coaching, critiquing, and doing color commentary, that is, the people who had vested interests in the domestic game. The sports media could play both sides of this game, as they reported the exploits of the pioneers while giving space to the domestic controversy.

So your article on the whole gets it right in substance (including of course the worry that Japanese baseball is losing some of its luster as we kep losing our stars to the big boys), but you take much that had already happened, in baseball and Japanese sports in general, not so coincidentally, I believe, during the post-bubble 90s and early 2000s, and conflate it into the much more recent drama surrounding Matsuzaka's transfer.

And now, the coda: His good but not spectacular ERA is somewhat worrisome as he takes his game to the Pujols and the A-Rods; and some detractors point to his "soft" look as sign of an Irabuesque penchant for the smorgasbord. (Remember Pussy Toad?) But then, he has always had an extra gear that he can shift to when the occasion warrants. That, more than anything else, separates him from the gaggle of aces that have from time to time been able to rack up similar stats. And if the fans awaiting him in Beantown, that is, the "many academic and white-collar people in Boston", do not pose such a challenge, I don't know what does.

I am sure that he will acquit himself well. Godspeed, and good luck, Matsuzaka.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Aso Gives It Up for Putin; Duke Eats Wolf; Short LDP Kanji Names, Long Intra-Party Feuds; US Presidential Sweepstakes Begin; Summary of DPJ Ills

Foreign Minister Aso wants to split the Four Islands with the Russians. So much for the fearsome right wing nationalists taking over Japanese foreign policy.

If you didn't catch David Duke being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, go on YouTube, Putfile, wherever, to see it. Little David ate the Wolf, beard and all. Mr. Blitzer let Mr. Duke take control with a tirade against his introduction, then things went downhill from there.

But that's what happens when you go in with a list of prepared questions (Do you agree with President Ahmadinejad's assertion that Israel should be wiped off the map; do you agree to a Israel-Palestine two-state solution…), and lack the background information or the wits for any sort of back-at-you when you get answers that you didn't expect (first of all, President Ahmadinejad said no such thing yada yada; I think that would be the best solution, but yada yada…)

That's what happens when an amateur goes up against a battle-scarred veteran who's been doing this shtick in front of a hostile MSM for at least thirty years (since by his own account he left the Klu Klux Klown behind). I doubt the interview will change any US minds, but I don't think it will feature prominently on the CNN website.

Will the success of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have the cable people scouring the improv theaters for new talent? And, W.S., with your theatrical background, you could do it too.

In the Japanese Yomiuri only (to the best of my knowledge), the LDP has created a special category of posts for the seven of the eleven Lower House Diet member returnees in electoral districts where it already has local electoral district chairpersons. Instead of becoming local proportional representation electoral chairpersons as the LDP by-laws require, they are being appointed "Local provincial Lower House chairpersons".

This semantic and party-regulation legerdemain will not please Yukari Sato and the other LDP local electoral district chairpersons. Political junkies can enjoy that particular tug-of-war as the sniping continues and the news media finds it a convenient diversion on a slow day.

Talk of Condoleezza Rice has died down, and John Kerry is up and about; I guess the race is on.

And here is a tidy summary of the events surrounding the quandary that is the DPJ. Not by me, which saves a lot of time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Six-Party Talks Subgroup That Covers Japan-North-Korea Normalization Causes More Problems Than It Solves for the Abe Administration

The Yomiuri correspondent in Washington writes that China has proposed setting up five subgroups under the Six-Party Talks, and one of them is supposed to cover "normalization of Japan-North-Korea relationships". The reporter expects to see the abductees issue taken care of there.

The North Korean leadership cannot make any more meaningful concessions on the abductees issue, so they cannot take this subgroup seriously. However, they will surely find ways to torment the chained dog with this bacon/stick in every which way, and have every reason to avail themselves of them. It will be of the extreme importance to Mssrs. Abe and Aso to be able to run in place on this issue, if and when there is (unlikely as it is) progress on the core WMD.

The Abe Family and the Yomiuri Give Five LDP Upper House Members the Kiss of Death

What must be a sobering piece of news for five LDP Upper House legislators lay nestled in the upper left corner of the second page of this morning's Yomiuri. Big Nakagawa and even bigger ex-Prime Minister Mori are going on record, the latter naming names, that the time has come to revisit the list of LDP Upper House candidates and put losers out of their misery. Always helpful Yomiuri has compiled a list of the three doomed candidates named by Mr. Mori and added a couple more for good measure. The three who received the Mori bearhug are all septuagenarians. The reasons for the other two falling into disfavor are not specified; however, the article mentions "cases where the people around the candidate are causing importune incidents, [or] the local LDP party machine is not united". The four DPJ candidates that have already been authorized to run against them are thirty- and forty-somethings.

The LDP got this one right. The prime minister repeatedly made it known he was coming after Upper House candidates; his LDP (i.e. Mori faction) surrogates did the dirty work. For the most part an LDP family affair and not a matter of serious public concern, still, it was not a gimmie. Unless I've missed something, it's a real gain for Mr. Abe, who has given the LDP an opportunity to contest five seats with viable candidates.

The LDP Slips; None of the Above Gains

The Abe Cabinet poll numbers continue to slip, and, to a lesser extent, the LDP's. Unfortunately for the opposition, the biggest winner is "none of the above". According to the Yomiuri poll, the DPJ made modest gains, but so did Komeito (who arguably did better because it started from a much lower base than the DPJ). The Communist Party lost one third of its support, which sounds startling, until you see that it's a drop from 1.8% to 1.2%.

It would be nice if, as in most other countries, the figures in these unbiased, random-sample polls by the mainstream media with their own exemption from anti-competition laws came within shouting distance of each other. (Look around, and you'll see what I mean.) Still, the trend is clear; as things stand, the only hope for the DPJ is a hung Upper House after the 2007 general election that results in a grand LDP-DPJ coalition. (I have a sneaky feeling that Shisaku has already said something like this. Or my friends at Eurasia Group. Whatever. I'm not going to rummage through the humongous Shisaku archive.)

The DPJ's problem is clear; it is the not-LDP, but that leaves little room to cover for an amorphous pattern woven of every political stripe but the Communists and unreconstructed splittists. (Old Socialists.) Life is unfair; that is also an accurate description of the LDP. But the LDP got there first. The LDP is the blob you know, and the LDP has been doing it on (mostly) and off (briefly) for the last half-century. The Lost Decade (Dozen?) did not finish the LDP off; it's the DPJ's task to differentiate itself.

Many, many years ago, I asserted that the Socialist Party would have to crumble before the LDP followed suit. The Socialists obliged and the LDP splintered; yet the LDP rumbles along, with a little help from the there-but-for-the-Hokkekyo-go-I Komeito. I have no emotional attachment to either party; still, as a private citizen, I hope against hope that the DPJ gets leadership, gets going; on a clear and logical policy package based on creative thinking.

My two yen's worth:

1. Public works: creative destruction.
2. Education: deal with consequences of college-entrance-exam-driven education system.
3. Public pension and healthcare system: address true long-term costs.
4. Public debt: tax reform.

Yadda yadda. See, it's easy. When you don't have to actually do it.

I've been doing some thinking, and I've come to the conclusion that it is impossible to conduct a meaningful dialogue with anonymous bloggers. They will continue to be free to post as they see fit, but I'll only respond to criticism when I think the criticism is spot-on.

If someone who wishes to know about my decision in more detail, or of other thoughts that I've had along the way, but for whatever reason wishes to remain anonymous on the blog, please email me, and identify yourself. I'll be happy to engage in a dialogue, provided that you allow me to post the dialogue on this blog. Sans any ID information leading to identification of that person. But please be polite:
You are an idiot, Jun, and this is why:
"In http:…, you write "…". But previously you wrote "…”. You have changed your position without explanation. Moreover, your latest claim is groundless because…
Now, try to talk yourself out of this duplicitous mealymouthedness.

Dear sir:
With due respect, sir, it is people like you who make meaningful political discourse impossible. Now could you kindly tell me what you have to say for yourself?
Respectfully yours.

I will, of course, continue to respond to comments whose origins are directly or indirectly identifiable.

Friday, December 08, 2006

On Crime; and Baseball

The Cryptic has made some money, a day ahead of schedule, and is indulging himself.

The DPJ and Komeito Make Up Their Minds on the Road Money. For the Time Being.

So the LDP, with the Komeito chiming in, have reached a compromise on the road money (Asahi Shinbun; Yomiuri is far more ambiguous). For the time being. It's not pretty, and the media are venting. But it looks like the DPJ is taking a de facto pass on this one too. Though for once I can't blame them; this is one issue on which anything you do to change the status quo to help one part of your constituency will hurt the others. Popular rule is never good at delivering the greater good, though it's usually good at avoiding the greater bad. (Except when then greater good is incompatible with the little good. I'll get to that later on this blog.)

In any case, this is not an issue that will go away, since it's part of a bigger whole that will determine Shinzo Abe's place in history and, more importantly, whether he serves out the full six years.

I could try to go on about this difficult choice, but why bother? Shisaku has already covered it in lengthy, oops, sorry, eloquent detail already, and I have nothing to add to that. So why bother? Instead, I'll do a cyber-sidebar to his headliner:

Okay, so we stop the cash flow; what happens? You've got a lot of ugly coastlines, river shores, useless bridges and whatnot on the one hand; and a lot of angry, jobless, workless people, businesses, and communities on the other. And then on the third hand (which we will evolve after another million years of buffet dinners), there's lot of money. Don't you think it makes sense to put the three together in a massive, multi-year program to restore the seacoasts, the river shores, etc. to its original pristine state? I mean, if the construction work's not doing any good and there's a need to spread the money around… It's not like this is an unfamiliar concept; the mining industry does this kind of cleanup work all the time. In fact, I can see a whole new way of thinking about public works, and it will be taught in those newly spawned public adminstration graduate schools all around Japan; call it: Deconstruction Theory 101.

But do we really need the construction firms to spread the money around? Why not skip the middleman altogether and go directly to the people? Why not pay them to live in the boondocks? That way, some of those roads and bridges may turn out be useful after all, and you won't have to take them out. Doesn't bribing people, instead of businesses, to come put the choice in the hands of the individual; which is Mr. Abe's point in the first place, right? And don't tell me you haven't heard this story before, because this was what South Korea had been into with the Northern refugees until it went into Sunshine Policy mode; and Israel has been doing it on a nationwide scale since I don't know when.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. Komori, I am Not a Crook..

. Yoshihisa Komori has done it again.. Pretty soon, my liberal friends will stop talking to me. I wasn't aware that they'd bothered to print my letter. Since it may have been edited down, here is my letter in its snarky entirety:

Re: Monday, Nov. 20, 2006
Ideological laundry unfurled

Professor Clark has an interesting take on many of the substantive issues he raises in this column. If he'd put them forth in the NBR Forum in the first place, while leaving out some comments and asides, I think it would have led to a much more satisfactory exchange of opinions. Which makes his following comment even more puzzling:

"I sometimes contribute to the NBR (National Bureau of Research) web forum set up to encourage free and frank exchanges of opinion between Japan watchers around the world. It is a completely private forum, with watchers free to say things they would not say before a public audience."

Actually the Forum says:
"Over 800 individuals representing 25 countries are signed up to receive and contribute messages to the Forum, and many others read messages via the Forum's public web archive. "

When you post in the Forum, you put your views in the public domain. Any insinuation that it is otherwise is misleading at best. But more disturbing is the notion that it is some kind of house of intellectual pornography, where you indulge your thirst for thoughts and ideas that dare not utter their names. The single comparative advantage of a posting in the Forum over a well-paid column in an publication with the history and prestige of a Japan Times does not lie in the latter's (sic) imagined secrecy, but in the instant feedback, positive and negative, that you receive from well-informed, if often opinionated, signed-up peers. As for the "watchers", the rest of the world is free to watch, and exercise their right of fair use if they so desire. Besides, I am sure that Professor Clark does not want the world to think that he is apt to blow some smoke in the face of the general public, then go off to this den of inequity (sic) to puff on something more sinister.

As I said, Professor Clark makes many interesting points in his column along the way. But he chooses to close the deal with this:

"They also make for a particularly snide and sinister form of criticism against dissenters. I once lived and worked (as a diplomat) in the former Soviet Union, another collectivist regime. There, too, policy dissenters were automatically attacked as enemies of the nation. There too they were condemned to be nonpersons (in Japan they call it mura hachibu, which means to be excluded from the society). It is time someone stood up to this ideological blackmail."

But does Professor Clark really believe he has been murahachibu-ed? Because that's what this paragraph seems to be saying. Has he lost his job? Is he losing his column? Do his friends no longer speak to him? If so, I do take part in a couple of multinational forums here (including many Japanese) that I am sure would be happy to invite him to take part in a lively debate. Unfortunately, we have very few among us who fit the description of "snide and sinister". Snide, yes; sinister, no. We don't have many right-wingers either, but I'd be happy to play the part of Komori advocate, just for him, since I have been (mistakenly in my view) identified on one occasion as a Komori associate of some sorts. It would also be a good opportunity to discuss what really happened to the "magazine", why it happened, and what the implications are.

This is a bonus for those of you who bothered to read the whole thing:

I believe that Mr. Komori was quite critical of the NBR the first time around. This time, he seems to have a more benign view of the forum. Why the change? Why Mr. Clark is getting the short end of the stick, that's why. So, which is it, Mr. Komori? I don't like inconsistency any more when it's coming from a journalist than from an academic. Guess what, it would be fun to have these two go at each other. Figuratively, of course.

And while I'm griping about Mr. Komori, another thing is, I wish he'd stop calling me ex-president of JETRO New York. It's unsettling. I have nothing but fond memories of JETRO, but you know who they do that to, don't you? Criminals, that's who. Like, "Ex-Policeman Kills Two!" "Ex-Self-Defense Force PFC Serial Rapist!" "Ex-METI Fund Manager"… You see my point?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Belated Reply to Richard Lloyd Parry Concerning Democracy and the Imperial Succession

Something has been bugging me since this morning, so I'll take a little time to take care of the matter, then go back to the work I'm doing on a very tight deadline (partly because I do this sort of thing)…

I posted a comment here, on Richard Lloyd Parry's blog, but hadn't realized until this very morning that Mr. Parry had graciously acknowledged and congratulated me on my blog. I thank him for that, and I'll be sure to put Asian Exile on the list of Blogs by People I Haven't Met. However, he also criticized some of the points I made [, and made a wrongful assumption about me] (This is totally wrong; I mistook "savants" for "servants", but in keeping with a personal vow I made, I leave my error here, unedited)] . Since it is almost three months to the day since the post, I am obliged to offer this belated response here:

‘Biological snobbery’ is the assumption among certain parents that only those with children can fully understand the world, and that those without are in some way emotionally impaired. I catch a whiff of it in your opening comment.

Good point, Mr. Parry. My apologies. I should, instead, have realized that the total lack of the kind of "yes, but" jocosity or grace that I imagined would have accompanied any spirited discussion that involved the birth of a child should have been attributed to the fact that the child was "theirs", not "ours". I hasten to add that I see nothing wrong in this; I believe this ability to distinguish between various levels of "otherness" a survival mechanism that enables us to maintain our sanity. (I also recognize that this is the source of much human suffering as well. But I digress.)

I don’t know many people who would agree with your thoroughly sinister suggestion that “dedication” (whatever that means) compensates for lack of numbers, and that in “our version of democracy”, minority interest groups should be able to get what they want by shouting loudly and throwing their weight around.

I am totally mystified by this particular line of attack. For it is also Mr. Parry's "version of democracy", unless the United Kingdom has adopted the public referendum as a means to settle all political issues, or decided to emulate the Greek city states in a vote of all her free citizens. On any issue, there are bound to be the committed, the staunchly opposed, and a slew of people at all points in between. And of course the committed will "shout loudly" and "throw their weight around", all the way up to the all-night, brawling Diet sessions we used to have in the past. (I miss that dedication and theatrics; at an historical distance.) And I would not want it otherwise. A world in which the minority's wishes are always discarded? That is a throughly sinister world that Mr. Parry would be loath to inhabit.

There is a plausible argument to be made for plebiscites on major issues, and constitutional amendment is a good case in point. It is remotely possible (in fact I hope) that the imperial succession will be part of the constitutional discussions. But the situation I described is democracy as it exists, here and elsewhere that the institution flourishes. To call it sinister is to call democracy sinister.

As for the question of whether the 80 per cent wanted what they said they wanted, or only mistakenly THOUGHT they wanted it, again I experience a chill. How are we ever to settle this question? By taking people at their word? Or must we trust the answer to an elite of “dedicated” savants like yourself?

This is wrong is several ways; let me explain:

Anyone who will bother to reread the original thread will know that I said no such thing as that they were muddle-headed in any way (though some surely were, as happens on any issue). I do recollect that the poll numbers shifted with the circumstances. People, believe it or not, change their minds on an issue, particularly when, let's admit it, they don't have much of their immediate personal well being at stake. Am I implying that the imperial household has less of a hold on the Japanese psyche than, say, one particular version of Islam on the Shiite Muslims in Iraq? Yes. But that also means that our problem is more amenable to solution. When and how? {Not being a butler, valet, or coach footman, as you erroneously assume, I can give you the name of one person who will not be doing the deciding, even if your insinuation turns out to be correct.}(This is of course, so wrong. My apologies.) It will be decided through a process that involves strategy and tactics on the part of the people who care about the issue, and chance. And it will most likely culminate in the enactment of an Imperial Household Law. In the meantime people will make up their minds, then change them, then change them back again. And I assure you that "an elite of dedicated [servants] (Oddly, this sentence still works with "savants")" will have little control over the outcome of this one. Pretty messy, isn't it? But we have a name for it. And it's not "chilling".

[Note: I have nothing against butlers, valets, or footmen. But Mr. Parry violated what I believed to be a basic rule of journalism: namely., talk to the source, in this case me, on my situation, or my values. My apologies, Mr. Parry, but I couldn't resist it. I'm tempted to call this exchange "occupational snobbery, tit-and-tat", but I won't.] (Believe me, I sure won't. But I do believe it would be wrong for a mainstream journalist to deny that he belongs to the cadre of "dedicated savants" who undeniably influence the conventional wisdom of the day.)

"You phrase it wittily but still your version of the old, right wing retort, “If you think that way, why don’t you bog off to Russia/China/North Korea”, is as crude and nonsensical” as it ever was. If we’re talking about cliché, that one is hard to beat."

You got me there, Mr. Parry. Though you have to admit in this case that proletarian dictatorship is mighty close to a claim (if not reality) of absolute rule by the majority. But I do appreciate the fact that you acknowledged my wit. And now, back to work. I don't get paid for my writing, you know. Not yet.

And, Mr. Parry, you have a pretty interesting blog there yourself, you do. Congratulations.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mr. Abe Is a Nice Person, and for That, He Is in Trouble.

Shinzo Abe is a nice man by all accounts. He is nice to his wife, he is nice to his mother, he is nice, well, he tries to do the right thing for his dog, if this British journalist is to be believed. And he must be nice to his colleagues as well, because it is difficult find anyone who will own up to hating him, though for even some LDO politicians, he is a politician whose beliefs are at least as much odds as less-liked … but I digress.

On the other hand, he is also known as a pragmatic politician, whose navigation skills are proven by his ability to hang with and become the protégé of Junichiro Koizumi, whose softy approach to North Korea and persistence on Post Office privatization, the two dfining issues of his regime, were diametrically at odds with Abe's own belief.: The clumsy attempt at rapprochement with North Korea and the Post Office counter-putsch must have been painful for Mr. Abe to bear. (And though they both support Yasukuni, they are otherwise at opposite ends on that issue, as (I think) I argue here.)

But the North Korea nuclear tests, as well as the desire on the part of his prospective South Korean and Chinese counterparts rendered the first question moot. And with that $64,000 question taken care of, Mr. Abe in all his sincerity decided to lay rest to the second. That the decision was precipitated by the LDP's need to enlist the renegade troops in the mathematically daunting battle in next year's Upper House elections in no way belies Mr. Abe's good intentions. It was as much a personal decision as a political one.

That sincerity, if properly expressed and communicated through the JMSM, should have limited whatever damage the turnaround would cause. His judgment may have benn called to task, but that Abe sure is a good man at heart, and a man of his convictions to boot, the story could have gone. And see how far that story managed to sustain George Bush, among others.

But it was not meant to be. Throughout the process, Mr. Abe (or his handlers, it does not matter which) contrived to keep him out of the spotlight as much as possible. Then, as the end game arrived, with the polls slipping, the LDP powers that be realized their mistake, and tried to arrange a TV interview or two for Mr. Abe. But for once, the infamous kisha club system worked against the establishment, and demanded a collective press conference. Mr. Abe (or his handlers, it matters not which) demurred, and the media (and Mr., Abe) ended up with the regular once(?)-daily burasagari (i.e. hanging-on to the ambling interviewee) for the unexceptional platitudes that invariably flow in these occasions. Pleasing no one, I'm sure.

The short-term damage is that Mr. Abe has been seen as going back on the Koizumi reform. But if you consider the water that has flowed under the bridge since the Japanese 9.11 (2005), as well as the humiliation that the renegades were forced to undergo, it is absurd to argue that this was the only way the story could have played out, or that, once the narrative had been laid, there had been no way to control the damage through some deft footwork on the part of the honeymooning prime minister. Yet the real damage will play itself out in the long run (one political year); the media has smelled the fear; it will attack relentlessly the political celebrity that refused to feed the beast. If you don't come to us, then we will go to you.

Mr. Abe must now show the media that he is up to it. He has much ground to make up. He showed his weakness (or so the media believes, it does not matter which), an aversion to the ball come crunch time; now, he must prove that it was merely an illusion, an aberration at worst. Otherwise, his regime is likely to be short-lived. The media will portray the same loss in next year's election not as a simple exercise in arithmetic, but as a substantive LDP setback. And many LDP knives will be unsheathed, if hidden, to bring down Caesar's heir.

It is now an uphill battle. But Mr. Abe cannot avoid it. And he has no one to blame but himself. That comes with the perks.

The Cryptic Weighs in on Government Reform and Cultural Diversity


Monday, December 04, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jun Okumura Superstar

Fo' shizzle.

A Different Take on the Rumsfeld Memo

Here's a different take, from a more authoritative source, to this. This mst be all over the blogosphere by now.

"Rumsfeld Urged Changes before Resigning" on the Day Before the Election (and This Is What the President Said to Him…)

An AP writer (he cites an earlier NYT article) tells us that on Nov. 6, the day before the mid-term elections, Rumsfeld wrote in a memo to the White House that "[I]n my view it is time for a major adjustment. Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

The article goes on to quote Rumsfeld's trusty ex-spkesman:

Lawrence Di Rita, who was Rumsfeld's chief spokesman before he left the Pentagon last spring, said in a telephone interview Saturday evening that the broad range of options presented by Rumsfeld belies the notion, often cited by his critics, that he is inflexible and reluctant to consider alternative approaches.

"I see this thing as classic Rumsfeld," Di Rita said. "This is the way he operates."

Perhaps. But I'm not sure George Bush appreciated this change of heart. Look at this transcript from a White House tape later in the day:

POTUS: Don, what's this memo?
Don: Oh, that? I've been doing some thinking, George, and I decided to put my thoughts down. Consider some new options.
POTUS: But Don, this is stuff people have been talking about for the last couple of years, and all this time you've been telling me things were hunky-dory. Tomorrow's election day, what the heck am I going to do with this? And call me Mr. President.
Don: But George, I just had these thoughts today. Even an old dog can learn new tricks, heheh.
POTUS: Not if it's dead it won't. You're fired.

Mr. Di Rita makes a valliant attempt, but there are some things you just can't spin.

Little Nakagawa Says LDP Doesn't Like What His Soulmate Wants to Do with the Road Money. So What Will the Prime Minister Do about It?

In a news item so small I can reproduce it in English in its entirety with ease, tucked away in the corner of page 4, the Sunday morning Yomiuri tells us:

"Chairman of the Policy Research Council Nakagawa Is Negative Towards Putting Road-Specific Tax Revenue into the General Budget"

Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council Nakagawa gave a speech on Dec. 2 in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and, setting forth a different opinion, stated that, concerning the redirection of road-specific tax revenue, including the volatile oils (think gasoline) tax, into the General Budget, as Prime Minister Abe demands, "The [Liberal Democratic] Party have more or less come to a meeting of minds on a different view. The party's unified view is that we are going to provide truly necessary roads."

And all Mr. Abe wants for FY 2007 is \150,000,000,000 (a lot of zeros, but remember, they're 115 to the dollar) out of \3,542,900,000,000 (for FY 2006), or roughly 3% of the total. Leaving aside for the time being the question of how the LDP can come to a conclusion without a go-ahead from its commander-in-chief, this augurs ill for Mr. Abe's long-term strategy:

When Junichiro Koizumi came into power, he took aim at two forces that had been the backbone of LDP campaigning and finances, the national postal system, and the construction industry. He managed to pro forma privatize the National Post Office as well as the four road-construction-and-maintenance Japangos (Japanese quangos; yes, I made that up), striking a double blow against the political and administrative status quo.

But the task remains, at best in the case of the four road agencies, incomplete. The former continues to dominate the front pages on a slow day with the "Penance of the Twelve" Passion Play divertissement, but the second also lingers because the funds are still there for the taking. And we are finally paying off the last of the multi-trillion Yen debt that we incurred to build those four bridges to nowhere (actually, Shikoku is a beautiful place, with great food, great people, but one at most was widely considered economically feasible at the time) will be retired, leaving us in 2007 with a roughly \510 billion annual surplus.

Needless to say, the construction companies and the automotive industry and their LDP allies, as well as the local governments, are up in arms against any move to divert this surplus to the general budget. The automobile industry could go along with a tax cut, but that in turn would put a crimp in Mr. Abe's hopes to trim the national deficit while delaying as long as possible talk of a consumption tax increase. And this time, Komeito help in restraining the LDP opposition is doubtful, since they too are demanding that the money be used for roads and their environs.

Surely, Mr. Nakagawa S., good friend and ideological kinsman of the prime minister, will come up with a nice compromise. But it is likely that it will be cosmetic, with the money in the General Budget, but not quite general in its use. And Mr. Abe appears to be reluctant to invest much political capital in this intra-LDP tug-of-war.

If Mr. Abe continues to husband his resources with the instinctive caution that he brings to these occasions, it will erode his political leadership, as well as his ability to begin to set aright the national finances, a monumental task that Mr. Koizumi purposely left to his successors.

I Didn't Know Where the Iraq Study Group Came from Either. Do the People Who "Created" It Know?

How many people know what the "Baker-Hamilton Commission" aka "Baker Commission" aka "Iraq Study Group" really is? I thought so. No shame, I didn't, either. So I went looking, and this is what I found:

First stop, Wikipedia, which says that the Iraq Study Group "is a ten-person panel appointed on March 15, 2006, by the United States Congress". Pretty impressive.

Next stop, Congress. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress does not have a website. So I go to the Senate website, where there are a bajillion references to TSG, but nothing about its authorization. The H.R. website fares better, where I manage to locate a news release entitled Statement of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) On the Creation of the Bi-Partisan Iraq Study Group, Which Evolved from his Idea for "Fresh Eyes on the Target" (yes that is the actual title), but reveals nothing more on the actual act of conception. The website also gives us a couple of press releases from the U.S. Institute of Peace, this, which tells us that USIP "is organizing a fresh look by persons outside the government" "[a]t the urging of Congress"; and this fact sheet, which says that "[I]t was created at the direction of a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. Congress". These two versions, both issued by USIP, do not necessarily contradict each other, but do not reinforce each other either. This yet another memo from USIP, which says that "[t]he effort is undertaken at the urging of several members of Congress" isn't helpful either, even if "the White House welcomes it". Having given up my efforts to find out how the ISG was spawned…

Next stop, the USIP website, where I hope, at least, to find out who appointed the ISG members, and how they did it. There, I find this which answers its own question as follows:

"6. How was the membership chosen?
"Co-chairs Baker and Hamilton were chosen by mutual agreement among the Congressional organizers, USIP, and the other supporting organizations. After being named co-chairs, Baker and Hamilton selected the remaining group members in consultation with USIP and the other supporting organizations." By supporting organizations, the logos on the press releases indicate that they are Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP), and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy"

So it turns out that some members of Congress decided that it would be a good idea to ask Mssrs. Baker and Hamilton to head a group of non-government people to study the situation in Iraq to come up with some recommendations. Nobody in Congress seems to have publicly objected, the White House (whoever that is) agreed, and the other members of the committee were chosen by the aforementioned people plus ISG plus the other supporting organizations. And ISG has become everybody's projection of his/her desire or abhorrence, much like the shapeshifting aliens in The Martian Chronicles.

Is this the consequence of the inability of The Decider unable to decide, the Congress to congress? The US answer to gaiatsu? Irresponsible? But then, who can blame them? After all, it's a matter of life and death.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Big Nakagawa Calls in from Mexico (Mexico? Oh Yeah…). Message? Show Me the Votes. And My Take on Abe's Slide in the Polls

Hidenao Nakagawa, the LDP Secretary-General cum enforcer, told the Japanese media in Mexico, where I think he is helping Felipe Calderón inaugurate his presidency, that the rebels who lost to "assassins" in last year's Lower House General Election and want to stand for next year's Upper House election from the LDP will have to do better than say "Yessir!"; that they'll have to jump higher than the Magnificent 11 who kicked LDP Lower House butts. To wit:

"The current Lower House members were chosen in elections, voted to pass the Post Office Privatization, and voted for Abe for prime minister. Yet we said that wasn't enough, and had them submit written oaths [to resign their seats if they vote against a party decision]." (translation from Dec. 2 Yomiuri)

It does make a kind of perverted sense. After all, if someone who gains his constituency's mandate by running against privatization not only is willing to ignore that mandate by voting for that same bill, but also to sacrifice that mandate altogether in favor of party discipline, then surely the losers should do something to prove that they too will defy their supporters in favor of party politics. Or something of the sort. Their supporters will be disgusted, but…

Actually, not. All that their supporters want is for their guys to get back in the good graces of the LDP powers that be. And Mr. Nakagawa is not demanding some kind of kugatachi (think, Shadrach, Mishach, Abendego… the children were so happy, they ran (finger snappin') straight back into the fire…, but I digress); he wants them to prove that they can bring out the votes, is what he wants.

Once upon a time, carrots were the stock in trade of the Director-Generals. They supplemented whatever monies the habatsu chieftains were able to shell out on their own. But with the factions weakened beyond recognition and party membership for a Diet member worth 30 million yen per year in state funds (independents get zero), the stick has become extremely valuable. All this was set in motion in the 1993-94 political reform under the Hosokawa coalition government. Junichiro Koizumi put the finishing touches on that one, and Shinzo Abe is basking in afterglow.

Or is he? Mr. Abe seems to be, if anything, missing in action on this one. In fact, he seems to be torn between his well-known sympathy for the anti-privatization sentiments of the Post Office mutineers and his legacy from Mr. Koizumi, with whom he has few natural affinities.

Here, as on so many other issues, Mr. Abe is stretched on the rack between his natural inclinations and the expedient, between his desire to get along, and his need to lead (or at least be seen to, which is the same thing). Lacking Mr. Koizumi's talent for furiously running in place, he disappears.

That, and not the brouhaha over the Post Office rebels, is, in my view, the main reason for the decline in his popularity. Which, of course, is of little electoral relevance if the DPJ continue to drift, and the economy holds firm until next year's Upper House election.

And last but not least, a Happy Birthday to Me. Thanks, McP.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Odds and Ends Quickie 02: Bush's Kinda Guy; Miyazaki No.3 No Stand-Up Guy; Newsweek Covers Tell a Story of Their Own

The talks come off after a delay, and President Bush gives a ringing endorsement to Prime Minister Maliki. Money quote:

Speaking after a summit here with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush also offered a strong endorsement of the embattled leader, calling him "the right guy for Iraq."

It's probably a good thing Mr. Al-Maliki 's not a US news junkie, because he probably didn't seethis

Again, I want to thank you all for -- and, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA Director is working 24 -- (applause) -- they're working 24 hours a day.

And this:

"[Cheney and Rumsfeld] are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press and others.

And if he did, he can at least take comfort that Mr. Cheney's chances of serving out his term have actually gone up. Still, Mr. Bush does have a deadly touch with his words of praise.

It's official. Two weeks after he was hoisted up by the MSW to the indictment gods, then left Tadahiro Ito, governor of Miyazaki Prefecture, hanging there, is once again a dead man walking. This became inevitable when Mr. No. 2 began singing and implicated the governor, and, today, even the Miyazaki Prefecture Assembly resurrected their long-tabled non-confidence resolution.

BTW, I understand the resignation of the Wakayama governor is only effective as of Dec. 2, which happens to to be my birthday. I think it has something to do with getting the full year's end bonus, but you'll have to ask.

Speaking of my birthday, Cuba has decided to honor my birthday with a huge military parade. Unfortunately, Fidel can't come, and Hugo won't, so I said to myself, fugeddaboutit, I'll stay home and wait for the presents to come in. (Yeah, you. And you. And you.)

And speaking of birthdays, a shoutout to DWT, MH and their bountiful bundle of beautiful babyhood. Shisaku tacked up an APB, and he must have a huge readership, because my email to you bounced back, saying your in box was full.

That Shisaku also writes about the MSM’s trial by pictures. I touched on another aspect of visual editorializing. With these Newsweek covers depicting George Bush in varying degrees of humiliation. Well, look at what Newsweek did the following two weeks. I'm going to keep an eye on this, but it's clear that Newsweekis mindful of Muslim sensibilities in predominantly Muslim countries, but it's okay to show an evil Shiite anywhere people can buy Newsweek.


Seriously, though, how did Newsweek convince the cleric to do a Darth Sadr? Amazing. What next? The Daily Show?