Thursday, May 31, 2007

Falling Public Support for the Abe Administration Re Deaths and New Public Pension Scandal

No time to think; here's my end of a dialogue:

I believe that the fall in public support for Abe should viewed in terms of both the overall trend and the most recent, precipitous drop. The long-term downward vector is mainly the result of political mismanagement, i.e. the lack of effective leadership and public communication on the political financing scandals, the bloopers, and the return of the twelve penitents (of which there was leadership of sorts for the last, but only in a way that made him look out of touch in the eyes of independent voters.

The most recent, which occurred in less than a fortnight (according to Mainichi polls, if I remember correctly), seems to be traceable directly to the latest public pension scandal, and it remains to be seen how lasting its effects are. Remember that the numbers had been on a two-month upward swing, once the LDP party machine managed to stanch the verbal hemorrhage, and deflect some of the fallout from the financing scandal to the opposition. And the LDP is taking the latest public pension scandal extremely seriously, and has moved to enact emergency legislation with amazing alacrity. That should allow some clawback of public support.

The effects of the Matsuoka suicide is of course not reflected in the latest numbers, and everybody is having a hard time deciding what to make of it. Bad publicity, sure, but Abe has been rid of a gangrenous limb. Or so we thought. I think the second suicide, the death of the Japan Green Resources Agency ex-board member, ensures that the JGRA issue will continue to command public attention. Once Matsuoka died, the media were sure to begin releasing more information than ever in any case. (A dead politician without a viable successor is open game.) But the suicide adds depth and intrigue to the story, so the prosecution is sure to pursue it to the fullest, ensuring fodder for the media over the summer. Abe surely hopes that this will not happen and that his inherent likeability will make his numbers climb back up again.

Perhaps. But every bounce is shorter than the fall (I should copyright that); barring unforeseen, catalytic events like 9.11, Abe will find that his baseline numbers have again dropped another couple of notches as the July Upper House elections draw near.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Somebody in the Blogosphere Needs Cheering Up Today

So here you go.

Whales and Other Animals, Including Humans

some odds and ends piling up on my hard disk…

Animal Rights: The shifting Line between Us and Them

Here's a story about pig-hunting dogs. I quote:

"The wild boar has a reputation of being a highly intelligent animal that becomes very skilled at hiding and deceiving its adversary. [Joshua Kuata, owner of the world's only pg dog training school says, 'He has the reputation down my way of being the Houdini of the forest, so to hunt him down effectively requires a dog with equal cunning, skill and courage.'"

Indeed, scientists who study animal behavior will tell you that pigs are as smart as, if not smarter than, dogs.

Pigs are cuter too. At least we seem to think so, if popular cartoon renditions of pigs are anything to go by. Contrast this with dogs, which run the whole gamut of humanity from beautiful hero to ugly villain, romantic lead to slapstick comedian. But not as food.

Behind this is the singular talent of the dog to insinuate itself into our lives and lure us into projecting our human existence on them. Dog, the anthropomorph has become "one of us", at least in the West. Why did the pig never make that leap? It must have been too attractive as a food source; we had to keep it as "one of them".

The line between "us" and "them" shifts over time and varies widely between cultures.

Dead Whales Talking

BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- Greenpeace activists laid the carcasses of 17 small whales and dolphins in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate.

Some of the animals died after getting trapped in fish nets, while others showed the scars of being hit by ships' propellers, the activists said.
The gruesome collection, kept in a trough of ice under the hot sun, represented the number of whales and dolphins that die every half-hour or so through human impact, protest organizers said.

In a year, 300,000 whales and dolphins drown in fishing nets, "and it is impossible to calculate how many more fall victim to pollution, ship strikes, the impacts of sonar or climate change," Greenpeace marine biologist Stefanie Werner said.

A purposely edited excerpt, it was "part of a dramatic protest against commercial whaling". "The demonstration Monday was designed to urge countries to resist increasing pressure for a resumption of commercial whaling." So, a reminder that 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed each year by fishing nets alone serves to make a point about commercial whaling.

New Zealand Wants Payback.

This AP wire by way of TIME and this one from Australian Associated Press by way of Yahoo (click on the AAP icon at your peril if you are using Firefox) stick more or less to the circumstances surrounding this week's International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting in Alaska.

According to the report, New Zealand formally requested Japan to suspend its hunt of 50 humpback whales in return for their assistance during the fire on Japan's whaling vessel in February. My knowledge of the laws and age-old customs of the sea says that this is the kind of demand you only make towards hostile states and privateers.

BBC Continues Its Journey into Place the White Man Fears to Tread.

Meanwhile, Richard Black, the BBC environmental correspondent continues his exploration of alternative takes on whaling through science , ethnology, and gastronomy.

This last story, needless to say, is a reminder that the line between "us" and "them" shifts over time and varies widely between cultures.

Yes, I am aware that Katsutoshi Matsuoka, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, killed himself. No, I do not understand why he did it either.

The Polls Return to Tormenting the Abe Administration

Support for the Abe administration had bottomed out in March, and had been climbing back steadily since then. The economy continued humming along, new hiring was up, and the LDP-Komeito coalition government managed to pass legislation on education reform and constitutional amendment procedures, both issues dear to the prime minister's heart. It didn't hurt that the DPJ, the main opposition party, was seen as being uncompromising solely to serve political expediency. This in turn exposed serious divisions, strategic and tactical, within the DPJ leadership and their respective supporters. I was seriously beginning to rethink my view in March when the numbers seemed to be stabilizing that there would at best be a dead cat's bounce for the once beleaguered Mr. Abe.

And then from the national daily Nikkei, the news that "[t]he approval rating of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government plunged 12 points from April to a record low for his cabinet of 41%, according to the latest opinion poll conducted by Nikkei Inc. [between May 25-27]." Nikkei attributes this mainly to the new scandal over the national pension system and the lack of seriousness in dealing with the political financing scandal. But the political financing scandal has been around for quite some time now, and it had already become apparent that neither the LDP nor the opposition DPJ would be making much headway on this issue. I am a little skeptical that the latest development, a likely stalemate over the measures to be taken, had much of an effect on public perception of the Abe administration.

The public pension scandal is another animal. The revelation that the Social Security Agency, in yet another example of its bureaucratic bankruptcy, has lost a large chunk of the records of the premium payments and thus is depriving many subscribers of some or even all of their pension rights has stunned the public. The LDP is pushing stopgap legislation, but its effectiveness is in doubt.

Mr. Abe probably thinks he deserves a mulligan; he inherited the SSA mess from the five-year Koizumi administration, and the problems had been piling up long before that. The bad news for him is that he not only succeeded to the throne with Mr. Koizumi's blessing but also had been a key member of the Koizumi regime, holding down key cabinet, sub-cabinet and party posts throughout this period. Moreover, as his Beautiful Country shows, he regards the public pension system as an area in which he has some expertise. Unfortunately, he seems to lack a secure grasp of the system and its issues, and as good as suggests in his book that the system will take care of itself in a democracy. Also telling are the records of his day-to-day itinerary, which show that his main interests continue to lie in diplomacy and national security, and that economic issues are a secondary concern. He will not have an easy time to show that he is on top of the issues.

The fact that this scandal reached fever pitch just as the Nikkei took the poll suggests that there will be some clawback by Mr. Abe over time, assuming we've seen the extent of the problem. After all, the DPJ won't be able to come up with a satisfactory solution either. (There isn't one.) Still, this will ratchet down yet another notch the baseline support for the Abe administration. The LDP is trying to blame the public sector labor union for this, but this will not play as well as the blame game for the political financing scandal.

Many things can happen between now and the July Upper House elections (keep an eye on Shisaku and Observing Japan, among other worthy blogs, for regular updates and commentary), but the LDP are right to be scared right now. Seriously, they have to avoid this kind of surprise that will galvanize the non-aligned against it, as voting day draws nearer.

Addendum: Agriculture Minister Katsutoshi Matsuoka drawing renewed attention to his voracity, as chronicled by Observing Japan, hasn't helped Mr. Abe. But I still believe the sense of helplessness with the SSA hits closer to home and has accordingly been far more harmful.

The Pope Is Merely Being Honest

These "missteps" by this narrowly focused Pope remind us what the Christian West continues to think about the conquest of the New World (their term!), and the relationship with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors. The "most troubling pattern", if there is one, is not the one of recurrent error and backtrack sequences, but the consistent outlook that remains the norm in Western society even today.

There is a thin veneer of mostly liberal intellectuals, including a few who go overboard with cultural and moral relativism who are over-represented in the media and academia that might give the impression that the Pope is an aberration. But I suspect that he is closer to the rule than the exception.

Should This Be the Benchmark for Constitutional Amendment?

Article 24 (Entry into a collective security system)
1. … may, by legislation, transfer sovereign powers to international institutions.
2. For the maintenance of peace, … may join a system of mutual collective security; in doing so it will consent to such limitations upon its sovereign powers as will bring about and secure a peaceful and lasting order … among the nations of the world.
3. For the settlement of disputes between nations, … will accede to agreements concerning a general, comprehensive and obligatory system of international arbitration.
Article 25 (Public international law and federal law)
The general rules of public international law form part of the … law. They take precedence over the laws and directly create rights and duties for the inhabitants of … territory.
Article 26 (Ban on preparing a war of aggression)
1. Activities tending and undertaken with the intent to disturb peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for aggressive war, are unconstitutional. They shall be made a punishable offense.
2. Weapons designed for warfare may be manufactured, transported or marketed only with the permission of the … Government. Details will be regulated by a … Law.

Sensible, are they? Do you think the Japanese Diet will find the rest of the document helpful?

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Know Eight of the Top Ten Biggest Grossing Artists. Well, Sort of...

Another heads up from Dear Art Dealer…

According to a Chelsea Art Galleries announcement, "the sales for the three main contemporary art auctions in New York, May 15-18th, totalled $871 million."

Of the top twenty highest grossing artists, I recognized eight (Richter and Wesselman news to me). I'm too lazy to do the research, but they're all dead, aren't they? Supply and demand at work here. I recognized only one between 11-20, Richard Diebenkorn, and only because I remembered that someone had tried to auction off a fake Diebenkorn on Ebay and created a big scandal a couple of years ago. There are two women between 11-20, none among the top ten.

Among the top twenty biggest surprises (the artists with the highest sales-to-estimate ratios; none of who I recognized), I see one Japanese name and one what appears to be an African name. I assume all the rest are white, since I don't see a single recognizably African, Asian, or Hispanic name. In any case, they were dwarfed in absolute terms by the top twenty.

My conclusion is that if you're an artist, it still pays to be dead, white, and male. Now I am a man, and I can always die, if that's what it takes. So, if I could only...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Video Clip, to Sustain You for the Week

Yes, you.

Andy Warhol Hi-Lo, the Siloviki, and the Contemporary Art Boom

Thanks to my art dealer friend for the heads-up

Andy Warhol must have created a gajillion versions of his Marilyn Monroe portrait. He also did one on Leo Castelli, big time art dealer and early Warhol supporter. The Monroe portrait was 16X20 inches, Leo Castelli's, 40X40. Guess which one went for 28 million and which for 1.7 million.

Yep, you got it:

Andy Warhol
Lemon Marilyn
Christie's New York
May 16, 2007

Andy Warhol
Leo Castelli
Christie's New York
May 16, 2007

Pop art's main attraction seems to be accessibility. Even a Russian oligarch or a fund manager and their friends can "get it", and what is easier to get than Marilyn Monroe?

Speaking of oligarchs, Christie's made it even more easy to take as much money out of Russia in the form of portable assets while they can by adding rubles to its currency board. (Whatever that means.) The Kremlin is broadening its crackdown on the oligarchs and expanding state (and siloviki) control over the economy, and there are only so many gold bracelets you can wear out of before your arms fall off. This is as good an explanation as any for the boom at the high end of the works of contemporary (actually dead, which tends to limit supply) artists. The number of billionaires are rising rapidly, and the Russians are carrying more than their share of the load.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Update: ShintoUpsurge? Let's Hope Richard Halloran Is Not a False Witness

Visitors to major Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in 2007 during the Three New Year Days reached what appears to be an all-time high of 93.73 million. Attendance dipping below 80 million with the best of weather at the peak of the bubble economy years, the faithful are returning to the flock (at least for Oshogatsu) to the consternation of irreligious and/or proselytizing Japan-watchers around the world.

Of course there is always the possibility that the National Police, who are responsible for these statistics, are lying to us. And, as in the case of global warming, a sudden winter chill, sleet or rain, if not gloom of night, in 2008 could easily give fleeting heart to naysayers of the Great Awakening that Richard Halloran gives witness to.

Does Showing the US Its Anti-Satellite Technology Help China in Dealing with the Taiwan Issue?

Something that came up in a discussion I took part in the other day continues to bug me, so here it is:

It happens that the talk turned to the Chinese military, where it came out that there is a considerable amount of diversity in strategic thinking in the PLA, and their officials are increasingly more willing to talk openly about their own views. This means that we will hear things from time to time that can be alarming in of itself, but all in all, it's a welcome development. Nothing came out during the discussions, though, that suggested there has been any thought of softening their stance on Taiwan, and therein lies the rub.

China is not tipping its hand on why it blew up its satellite, but the general assumption, which did not go challenged in the discussions, is that China, in a much weaker military position than the US, both overall and, most critically, vis-à-vis Taiwan, and that this situation will not change in the forseeable future. This forces China in the case of open conflict with the US over Taiwan to rely heavily on (what people who know more than I do call) asymmetric warfare. From that point of view, knocking out the US satellite communications system would be a most cost-effective option. And you don't have to agree with China to understand where they are coming from, given that the Taiwanese leadership, for better or worse, has been doing far more to raise tension. The following excerpt from a WaPo article published soon after the incident is but one of many sources that cover this matter:

With the U.S. military heavily reliant on satellites for reconnaissance, navigation, weapons guidance systems and anti-missile defenses, China's ability to shoot down satellites could pose an added threat in the event of hostilities over Taiwan. In addition, China's newly demonstrated ability could threaten Taiwanese satellites monitoring Chinese short- and medium-range missile deployments along the Taiwan Strait.

My point is the following:

Destroying the US military intelligence and communications satellite system will close off a whole range of options that would be available with good intelligence and weapons guidance. But it will put the US in a bind, a fold-or-all-in choice between acquiescence and massive use of force. As was suggested at the discussions, it could become tempting at an earlier point in a conflict for the US to strike preemptively so that it would not have to be faced with such an unpalatable situation. In other words, China may have inadvertently chosen an extremely high-risk, high-return strategy for itself. By putting US on notice, it may have closed off its own options as well. Has the Chinese military given thought to this?

What do you think?

Not that BBC Will Get the Real Story Out on Education and Patriotism

Japan schools to teach patriotism, reads the headline for the BBC story on the revision of the School Education Law. (Not a "new law" or a revision of the Basic Education Law, as the article seems confusingly to imply. You need a copy editor, BBC.) This would be unexceptional in any nation, except those wooly-headed internationalists, China and South Korea.

Seriously, what's really wrong with this picture is this:

"Opposition members of parliament protested against the bill, warning that it could spread nationalism."

The opposition did indeed vote against it, and the Socialists and Communists were dead set against it on principle. But they don't count, unless the ruling coalition loses a majority in the July Upper House elections. And on this issue, the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, was if anything to the right of the Komeito, the dovish junior partner to Prime Minister Abe's more catholic but overall more hawkish LDP. The DPJ's objection focused on the relationship between the central authorities and the local education boards (DPJ favored the boards), and more importantly, was taken in anticipation of the upcoming elections, as they deliberately chose a more confrontational posture on all the issues.

BBC could have given you this back story. Instead, it tacks on the constitutional amendment issue and regurgitates the conventional wisdom of resurgent Japanese nationalism and Chinese and South Korean suspicions. It isn't much to ask for if they can do a little extra digging on the whale story.

Whaling Revisionists, at BBC of All Places

For an industry that contributes so little to our national calorific and animal protein needs, whaling has invited a disproportionately large amount of invective and violence from environmentalists and animal activists in the West. Whatever you make of the merits of the case, it's enough to make you wonder why we care. In fact, we don't really care that much, because it has taken the BBC of all places, and not the Japanese media, to remind us of the history behind it.

It's a story of sanctimony, treachery, accusations and counter-accusations, with lurking hints of something akin to racism. It also features Kazuo Shima, who should certainly rank as one of the top ten Japanese to have served in a leadership role as an international public servant with distinction.

Eat it up, JH.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Richard Halloran Holds Forth on Shinto Resurgence, Contrasts Yasukuni and Meiji Shrines

Veteran Japan hand Richard Halloran blew into town, did some walking around, came up with something that goes little noticed even here in Japan, and wrote it up in Real Clear Politics.

Maybe I've been too lazy to notice, maybe it's another case of it takes a gaijin, but Mr. Halloran's story of a resurgent Shinto makes sense. After all, there's solid evidence of a spiritual malaise begging to be taken care of, from soaring suicides rates to spiritual nostrum peddlers commanding center stage in the mainstream media (yes, I'm talking about the Sopranos-meets-Sylvia-Brown Kazuko Hosogi and the John-Edward-cum-Deepak-Chopra Hiroyuki Ehara*) to the more general dissatisfaction that seems to grip the Japanese mind whenever we are asked to answer opinion polls. We tend to blame the aftereffects of the bubble years. We are unsatisfied with the present, and worried about the future; where else are we to go?

A lesser hand might try to weave it into the surging right, military might, trope that earns space in the English-language mainstream media. Mr. Halloran instead focuses on the Meiji Shrine, and juxtaposes it with the Yasukuni, which has, fairly or unfairly, come to be solely identified in the ELMSM with the dark side of our post-Meiji Restoration history. Indeed, the two shrines surely provide the leitmotifs that weave through Prime Minister Abe's historical narrative, much in the way the pre-1945 and post-1945 biographies of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi illuminate his personal animus (in the Jungian sense, so the dictionary tells me).

*I suppose I should be happy our low-key, ecumenical, quasi-animistic approach to the supernatural precludes the proliferation of televangelist knock-offs. Then again, some might argue that we have the Tokugawa Shogunate to thank (or curse, depending on your point of view) for being spared the worst effects of a dominant, proselytizing creed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

America: It's Entertainment!

If you don't believe me, go google the video clips yourself, but the very liberal Jon Stewart has a soft spot for the staunchly conservative John McCain. In his multiple appearances on The Daily Show, Mr. McCain is unfailingly treated with respect, and his sincerity is never doubted. Had a bad case of malsoundbitis lately? No problem. Do the wry chuckle here, wry chuckle there rope-a-dope for Mr. Stewart and his audience, and he'll make sure that he and the audience will laugh at the latest from that crazy but harmless uncle. Disapproving, yes, but with affection. All is forgiven.

Now you may say; sure, but Mr. McCain is the liberal's favorite conservative, and the conservative the right-wing loves to hate. (Is there something about having walked the walk and the sense of proportion that the experience it gave Mr. McCain that unnerves armchair conservatives? But I digress.) But what then to make of William Kristol, who also has scored multiple appearances on The Daily Show, and is none the worse for it? Surely there must be few neo-cons short of, say, Richard Perle or Bill Bennett, more capable of raising liberal rancor than this die-hard neo-con propagandist?

But Mr. Kristol is also an engaging guest. He may write awful things and cast doubt on the moral probity of all who dares to disagree with him. But he is always entertaining. That must be it, it's entertainment.

It would only be fair to point out that liberals do not have a monopoly on this game. One of right-wing bully Bill O'Reilly's staple acts is to bring on a loopy, hapless liberal academic eager for his 15 minutes, for the sole purpose of tearing him apart and feeding him to the lions. But he can and does treat a Ralph Nader with great deference. Again, entertainment.

But then, Mr. O'Reilly has an excuse; he works for Fox News, and they are up front about it. Let's face it, if people you don't know come into your living room and say they'll put it all out for you, "fair and balanced", you better know they're just kidding, or you deserve every bit of what you get.

But the Daily Show? I mean, if you can't trust fake news, who are you going to trust? Me?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Japan: Sakaki, Masakaki; Big Difference, MTC Points Out

As the Shisaku blog points out, masakaki is what the 50,000 Yen paid for, not the name of the plant, which is masaki. Got it, me?

MTC always links through, never directly. This may be common courtesy, but it makes it easier to agree to disagree, as we so often do.

Japan: Yoshiko Sakurai Is Always on Top of the Facts

This BBC website article headlined New Proof of Japan Sex Slaves has prompted me to resurrect some ideas that has been sitting on my hard disk for some time..

Woe betide the (usually) man who dares to argue with Yoshiko Sakurai; for Ms. Sakurai has an unparalleled command of the facts, which she can coolly roll out one after another at a moment's notice. Couple this to her deep convictions, steely resolve and calm eloquence, and you have one of the most formidable debating machines, as well as investigative journalists, in Japan. However, even the great Ms. Sakurai can have her problems when it comes to connecting the dots. That is, in weaving a truth, out of the facts.

Early this year, as the comfort women issue flared up again over Congressman Honda's crusade, Soichiro Tawara's Sunday Project took it up, and the testimony of three women, one South Korean, one Taiwanese, and one Dutch (but none from mainland China) became the focus of the debate. When the Dutch case came up and it was pointed out that some Japanese figures were tried and convicted after the War for forcing Dutch women in Indonesia to have sex with Japanese soldiers, Ms. Sakurai retorted that this proved, to the contrary, that the Japanese government was not involved. To back this claim, she told us that the facilities existed only for a short time (I think she mentioned the number of months) and that the authorities back home ordered it dismantled when they got wind of it.

Now it is probably safe to assume that the Japanese authorities did not punish the military personnel who had been responsible in setting it up. After all, given her encyclopedic knowledge, Ms. Sakurai would surely have mentioned it if they had. And it is also safe to assume that Japanese military personnel were the authorities. Indeed, what government is not responsible for its actions, merely because the deed had not been sanctioned at its highest levels? More seriously, is she willing to accept the moral, as well as legal, authority of the war tribunal that convicted the Japanese military personnel in question?

I've wondered since then if Ms. Sakurai might have been pleading a more modest defense, namely that there was no overriding decision to coerce women into sexual slavery, and that therefore Tokyo and the Class-A War Criminals should not have been called to task. Indeed, from what little I know of the War, it seems that the ways the Japanese military treated everyone from its own soldiers to enemy soldiers, from its own civilians to the locals and Western internees, varied widely with time and locale. There was no overarching Japanese decision or concerted, sustained effort to render harm (other than the fact of war, and the decision to invade that led to them, of course) that triggered the atrocities that are now part of our global collective consciousness. But that would betray notions of the nobility of the Japanese military. I don't think Ms. Sakurai wants to countenance that possibility.

As for the current Japanese government, the latest BBC article does seem to elide over the much of what Shinzo Abe has said since then. To put it another way, by paraphrasing Ben Bot's words, Mr. Abe has surely expressed his "profound regret for all that suffering" and certainly must think that we were "on the wrong side of history". So perhaps he should be forgiven if he feels that "[w]e should not go into semantics".

For Mr. Abe must remember how his attempts to parse the word "coerce" was used to move the case to the forefront.

Japan: My Friend the Colonel Is Back

I've been needling him about his long absense, and I think it worked.

Good luck, colonel. Remember, in the blogosphere, your enemy is your second best friend.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

America: Takashi Murakami Channels Rembrandt and Dürer

My art dealer friend in Manhattan alerted me to this NYT article on Takashi Murakami's latest art show there. The following is the main part of my response, slightly edited. I usually stay away form writing about this sort of thing, but I think it made sense. I hope you agree.

I have no opinion on the artistic merits of Takashi Murakami's work. But the tea ceremony in traditional wear and the Daruma iconography of his latest body of work would be considered the stalest of clichés it if they had come from anyone other than Murakami.

What interests me more is that I think he is deliberately copying the pre-modern art business model, where workshops of the Rembrandts and the Dürers churned out masterpieces and not-so masterpieces for their wealthier clients and reams of cheap monochrome knockoffs for the less well-off. This tradition, of course, had been continued by the Diors and the St. Laurents and their cultural offspring, the artisan cousins of high art. Another way of looking at Murakami is that he is taking this scheme to another level of moneyed clients.

Updates on Media Treatment of the High School "Payoff" Scandal and Prime Minister Abe's "Masakaki"

Shukan Shincho and Shukan Bunshun, two popular weekly magazines, are slamming the Japan High School Baseball Federation for its crackdown on the widespread practice of giving scholarships and other incentives to high school varsity baseball players in their May 17 issues with multi-article features.

In Shukan Shincho, "Stupid Idiots JHSBF" shares top billing with "The White House Astounded by 'Wrongheaded Akki' [the media's nickname for Prime Minister Abe's wife] Running Amok". (No, Shukan Shincho is one of the more reputable weeklies.) Shukan Bunshun leads with "The Rasputin Who Lopped the Heads off '8000 Scholarship Students'"; the theme of the feature is "The Interest Groups that Feed off Koshien". (Koshien is where they hold the two national high school baseball tournaments). Interestingly, both launch broadsides against Asahi Shinbun, Shukan Shincho with "The 'Director of the Sports Department at Asahi' Who Wrote an 'Article in Defense [of JHSBF]' Is a JHSBF Board Member", and "Shukan Bunshun with "Asahi Reporter Writes a Suck-Up Article: Actually a JHSBF Board Member" and "The Root of All Evil Was Asahi Shinbun's Claim that Baseball Was Harmful". (You may or may not be aware that early in the 20th Century Asahi Shinbun ran a huge campaign against baseball before it made a turnaround and not coincidentally inaugurated the summer version of the two main high school baseball tournaments that have become the staple of the Japanese sports calendar. You also may or may not have noticed that the Japanese media loves quotation marks.)

Shukan Shincho and Shukan Bunshun are general interest weeklies published by Shinchosha and Bungeishunju respectively, both venerable, major publishing houses. They land somewhere between the sedate, boring magazines published by newspaper companies that you typically find lying around in bank lobbies and the racy, bloodcurdling scandalmongers that rely heavily on photos of young females in states of extreme undress.

What really matters politically with Prime Minister Abe's offering to the Yasukuni is, of course, how Beijing reacts. So, here's a translation of a Yomiuri article, since it looks too small to make it into the English version.

"China Expresses Concern While Avoiding Direct Criticism

"Concerning the fact that Prime Minister Abe had made an offering of 50,000 Yen at the annual spring festival at Yasukuni in late April, China's Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesperson Jiang Yu on 8 May, after mentioning that "the Yasukuni issue is a serious and politically sensitive problem", stated that "both China and Japan already agreed to overcome the political obstacles that affect the bilateral relationship and promote the development of a healthy cooperative relationship. This common understanding should be protected appropriately," thus expressing concern while avoiding direct criticism.

"China would like to continue to put the mutual visits such as [another] trip to China by Prime Minister Abe to China and a trip to Japan by President Hu Jintao on a steady course. It seems that this day's statement by the deputy spokesperson reflects the feeling that they do not want to have the improving trend of the Japan-China relationship to be affected."

Let's hope, for China's sake as well, that Mr. Abe knows what he is doing. I'm sure Mr. Hu does, since China is the grandmaster of this thrust-and-parry mating game.

Hey, even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.

China: Short Imaginary Interview with Wen Jiabao

1. You skipped a few lines when you made the speech in the Japanese Diet.

Everybody makes mistakes.

The lines you skipped were the most important lines from the Japanese viewpoint, since Japanese authorities have long insisted that the Chinese historical narrative has focused solely on its relationship with Japan up to and including the war while downplaying or completely neglecting the post-war role of Japan. To wit, you dropped the following lines:
"Japan chose the road of peaceful development after the warm and became one of the main economic powers of the world and a member of international society with great influence. As a friendly neighbor of your nation, the people of China supports the people of Japan in continuing to walk this road of peaceful development.
Full Japanese text (translation status unknown) here.)

Oh, did I mention the speech was broadcast simultaneously in China?

2. You made an unexpected invitation to the Emperor to visit China for the Beijing Olympics.

Did Prime Minister Abe ask my permission when he invited head of state Hu Jintao to Japan?

The Emperor is not the decider, and that includes state visits. Didn't your ambassador tell you that?

Of course he did.

3. On 11 April, CNOOC, one of the two Chinese flagship oil companies, announced that it had commenced production at the "樫 (Oak)" (天外天 (Heaven beyond the Heavens) to you) gas fields near the Japan-China median line on the East China Sea.

What could they do? They had to file a report to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. We don't make the disclosure rules for the stock exchange.

Filing it during your visit to Japan certainly made it difficult for the Abe administration to make noises.

Look, I didn't invite myself to Japan, your guys did.

4. You visited Daisaku Ikeda, the head of the Sokagakkai and spent more with him.

China has a forty year relationship with Sokagakkai. How could I not look him up?

Sokagakkai works hand in glove with Komeito. In fact, the dovish Komeito is Sokagakkai, and, as ruling coalition partner, is a powerful restraint on any moves to the right any LDP-led administration might attempt.

Is it in anybody's interests, including Mr. Abe's, for him to push the right-wing agenda?

Each one of these events can be explained away as a mistake or coincidence. Taken together, they show a China that is The Big Fundamental of geopolitics. It may be slow, it may be clumsy, but once it understands what's going on, it does a very good job of getting to all the right spots and making the plays.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Japan: Uh-oh, Mr. Abe Gives 50,000 Yen and a Nice Potted Plant to Yasukuni… Wait, What's This Other Name on the…

The prime minister also donated a potted two-meter high masakaki (cleyera japonica, just in case you wondered) as well. And South Korea is predictably angry. I wager that Beijing will shrug it off, and will let Mr. Abe revisit Beijing, later this year. Giving to Yasukuni must be a fad among the Japanese political leadership, since Yohei Kono, the President of the Lower House, also donated a potted plant.

If Mr. Kohno's name seems familiar to you, yes, he's the same Yohei Kono, the dovish LDP leader, who issued the Kohno Statement (the famous apology to comfort women) in 1993 as Foreign Minister. This Yomiuri article implies Mr. Kono also made a monetary offering, and has been doing this ever since he rose to the top post in the Lower House.

I can't wait to see how the Western media is going to parse this Kono angle. If they ever bother to look, that is. This is about as good as it gets.

Oh well, given BBC standards, it could be worse.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Japan: "Okinawa-gate: The Unknown Scandal"? Give Me a Break.

I know it won't help my social life any to admit that I was old enough (in fact, already in college) in 1972 to remember quite well the Nishiyama incident (read this if you understand Japanese). This TIME article employs this incident to demonstrate that Japan did indeed deserve its ranking "in last year's Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index than Ghana or Bosnia account. And I quote:

"Freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed right in Japan — as long as you stick to what the authorities want you to write. How does a developed democratic country manage to rank lower in last year's Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index than Ghana or Bosnia? Just ask Takichi Nishiyama, whose promising career as a star political journalist at a national daily ended in 1971, when he came across what should have been a career-making scoop — official documents revealing that the Japanese government had gone around a deal approved by Japan's legislature and secretly paid the U.S. $4 million to ends its occupation of Okinawa in 1972…"

Now I do not dispute that TIME did get the facts right, as far as I could discern. Mr. Nishiyama did receive the purported document from his MOFA paramour, and they both (Mr. Nishiyama in particular) were excoriated in the court of public opinion, including the entire mass media except Mr., Nishiyama's employer Mainchi Shinbun, and wound up being convicted of violating the Civil Servants Law. 35 years after the handover, Okinawa does continue to bear the burden of the US presence in Japan. Reporters Without Borders does rank Japan behind Ghana and Bosnia, 51st to be exact, only two places ahead of that bastion of oppression, the United States of America. (My condolences to the oppressed masses at TIME HQ. Aren't you lucky you are based in Tokyo, B.W.?) And I would not be surprised to learn that there had indeed been a secret deal to foot the US bill for the turnover, then some. It was not a done deal, in fact, a feat so unprecedented in human history that Eisaku Sato, the prime minister who engineered the transfer on the Japanese side, received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

But the TIME account omits a fact that was crucial to the unfolding of the incident. Mr. Nishiyama, instead of using the documents to expose the secret deal, decided to hand them over to two opposition Diet members, who used them to attack the government in Diet questioning. MOFA had no choice but to conduct an internal investigation to find the source of the leak, whereupon the paramour, who, according to her own account, had never intended the documents to be made public, fessed up. In other words, Mr. Nishiyama had crossed the line between a professional journalist and a political operator. It is no wonder that the media rightly attacked Mr. Nishiyama's actions, if the sex scandal (she was married at the time) did give it more legs than it perhaps merited. To imply that they did so because they only wanted to print "what the authorities want you to write" is a serious charge. Is TIME willing to back up this claim? Or will it issue an apology to the journalists working for Japanese publications?

Why then, does Japan merit such a low rating? If TIME had bothered to take a look at the Reporters Without Borders website, it would have seen that "[r]ising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically [sic] attacked by far-right activists (uyoku)." Now the kisha clubs (not "kishas", which is the plural of Japanese for "reporter") are basically institution-specific, self-administered media cartels. There's one for each ministry, the stock exchange, Keidanren, and what have you. Membership gets you a desk and a telephone line on the premises and access to regular press briefings. In return, you must respect press embargoes. Any sanctions are imposed and enforced by the kishaclub. I don't know how oppressive they are, but they did open their doors to foreign correspondents in the early nineties. However, other than wire services, they generally find the upkeep too expensive.In any case, kisha clubs have been around for ages, so they cannot be the reason for the 2006 fall. As for the Nikkei firebombing, I'll have to look at the full report to see if it really merited a 14-spot downgrading, but it certainly can't have anything to do with sticking "to what the authorities want you to write".

That the Japanese government continues to deny the existence of a secret deal is no surprise; it's a government, for heaven's sake! And it is the job of the media to go and dig up the facts. We have our own version of the Freedom of Information Act, which has its own version of a national security clause, with which the Japanese government will surely deny disclosure of any documents pertaining to such a deal, particularly since they will have to claim that such document do not exist, since there was no deal in the first place, n'est-ce pas? For such are governments, and that is why we have journalists. Why, then, don't journalists care about this one? A secret deal with the government? Because "[a]dmitting to the secret pacts would be to admit that the U.S.-Japan alliance strategy was built on illegitimate grounds, and call for closer scrutiny of the current relationship"? As silly as it is to get into this conjecture game, I would have to conclude that getting back Okinawa (which the overwhelming majority of the people of Okinawa wanted) was much harder than the public had realized at the time. A secret ransom may be reason for embarrassment, but it certainly would not have rendered better terms for the people of Okinawa had it not been paid. I'm inclined to believe they don't care because it's old, and now irrelevant to current events, so they're happy to let historians take a crack at it.

TIME concludes: "In a recent press conference, the veteran scribe rounded on his colleagues who 'committed journalistic suicide' when they chose to do their muckraking in his bedroom rather than in the corridors of power. 'The defenders of democracy continue to suck up to power instead of fighting it.' Nishiyama would agree with Reporters Without Borders, which insists Japan still has a thing or two to learn from Panama and Montenegro about the free press."

Who knows, maybe Reporters Without Borders is right. But just because Mr. Nishiyama is still sore after all these years, it doesn't mean he has a case here. And TIME is wrong to publish an article that is constructed on insinuations, shoddy fact-checking, and denial of an inconvenient truth. I only hope that it's not in the hard copy version; people pay real money for that.

P.S. And Okinawa-gate? Lame-o. "Unknown Scandal"? On which planet? TIME, you need a copy editor.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

America: Barack Obama, the It Politician.

There are the naturals, like Bill Clinton, who can make grown-up women swoon. Then, there are the guys, like Barack Obama, who can make grown-up men lose it.

Forgive me if I'm missing something (1), and I know multimillionaire Republicans do not fit comfortably into that born-again NASCAR dad demographics, but when you see them giving money to a freshman senator with little experience managing anything bigger than a classroom full of law students, you know Mr. Obama's got something the rest of us don't. Maybe it's his Mandela-at-forty good looks and delivery, maybe it's his something-for-everybody backstory, maybe it's… well, maybe Joseph "Call Me Joe" Biden was right. Or maybe it's the public's demand, and the media's need, for something new after twenty years of Bush-Clinton that have seen their lows, as well as highs. America is looking for someone with a big upside, like the Celtics… but I digress.

Mr. Obama's analytical brilliance and oratorical skills may combine to render him guilty of emotional miscues, like the time he used the word "violence" to segue from the Virginia Tech killings to a soliloquy on everything that's wrong with America (2). (Hello, Virginia Tech was reality, not metaphor). And he can allow his inexperience to show through, like he did in the first Democratic candidates' debate (3). But he's obviously a quick study, and the media, taken collectively, likes him and wants him to succeed. Thus, the attention on the inevitable gaffes and exposés of each of the candidates will give him cover to grow into his role before the field narrows, attention focuses, and the media come around demanding, as inevitably they will, Barack's pound of flesh.

And he'll be ready. I don't think there's anyone in the US who would think a Chicago politician can be too nice to play hardball. In any case, Mr. Obama showed he could dish it out by the taking the biggest swipe at Rudy Giuliani when they all had the chance. Nor is he above sticking it to a fellow Democrat when he can get away with it, as he showed with this perfect, ad-lib dig at Hillary Clinton (4).

(1) Yes, I'm aware I'm omitting female politicians from this discussion.

(2) Read Charles Krauthammer about this. For more on this, read Glenn Greenwald on Charles Krauthammer. In Krauthammer's defense he was by no means the only media figure to note the likely influence from suicide bombers' videos. Then again, Islamist and Palestinian militants have often used the rap music video idiom to create their own promotion videos.

(3) Yes, that is Joe Scarborough, and I suspect the majority of the people who read this are somewhat to the left of the man. But he does not rely solely on his right-wing reflexes to entertain.

(4) This quip came when Mr. Obama spoke at Al Sharpton's National Action Network. For those of you who can't be bothered to read the entire article (it's short):

"Early in Obama's speech, he stopped briefly as a cell phone on the podium began to buzz loudly. 'There's something humming down here. Is that Hillary calling?' Obama asked, to an explosion of laughter and cheers."

Yes, it's just a throwaway line, doesn't have any substance, and "Hillary Clinton, who spoke Friday, won several standing ovations from the audience" before him. But he deftly placed an image of a nervous Hillary and a confident Obama in control of the situation (just the two of them) in the minds of the audience.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Japan: Polls Show Unprecedented Support for Constitutional Amendment.

The result of Nikkei and Mainichi polls, released on May 2, one day before the Constitution Commemoration Day shows support for constitutional amendment at an all-time high.

So, do I have a clue as to what's going on? Of course not; don't you know I'm an idiot?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Japan: The Newspaper War behind the High School Baseball Scholarship Fiasco

Needs a lot of editing. But life is waiting for me out there. With behind-schedule work. Corrections welcome.

Perks rampant for high school ballplayers, accuses the English language Yomiuri headline. Too bad for those of you who can't read the Japanese version of the high school baseball scholarship fiasco. There, you can see that this is the biggest sports story in Japan, except for (for the Yomiuri) the daily exploits of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Moreover, the Japanese language articles are highly sympathetic to the students and schools, and mostly blame the High School Baseball Association for the fiasco and urge it to reconsider its crackdown on the violators. They also point out that the board has punished the schools and the unwitting students, but has decided not to assess any sanctions on any of the national leadership, including the chairman.

The Yomiuri's anger is understandable, since (as the linked Japanese language article points out) these and other high school schools also have similar "perks", typically tuition waivers and, where necessary, free room and board, for every other sport of significance, at least to the school concerned. In some cases, the amateur associations works closely with selected high schools (and middle schools) to train and educate elite athletes in the hopes that they would go on to win world championships and Olympic medals. Professional soccer has practically adopted the varsity soccer system alongside their own youth teams, and high school players can be allowed to play for their schools and professional teams simultaneously, with no obligation to go on to play for the same teams when they graduate. All this with the blessing of the Japan Football Association.

High school baseball's Avery Brundage amateurism extends to appearance. A strict code, epitomized by the uniformly shaved heads, metaphorically puts baseball in another era altogether.

Why, then, should baseball be any different? In the first place, unlike the rest of high school sports, which come under the umbrella of the All Japan High School Athletic Federation, baseball is ruled by the autonomous Japan High School Baseball Federation.

JHSBF has 30-35 directors on its board, who are supposed to be elected by the board of councilors. (The JHSBF website says 17 have been elected by the board of councilors, 7 have been elected regionally, and 4 have been "nominated/designated" by the chairman. The chairman and the 4 vice-chairmen are also supposed to be board members, but JHSBF does not mention who elected them. It seems at first glance that the JHSBF is in violation of its own by-laws, but is likely merely reality poking its head out of the façade.) The councilors consist of one nominee each from the 47 prefectural high school baseball associations, up to 33 (currently 32) elected by the board of directors, and up to 10 (currently 9) elected by the chairman. So, once a chairman has gained control of the board of directors, it would take a near-unanimous uprising on the part of the prefectural associations on the board of councilors for anything to even begin to happen against the wishes of the chairman and his allies. (It requires a 2/3 supermajority in both boards to terminate a director before his two-year term is up.)

And JHSBF has an ace up its sleeve. Two, actually. The arrival of Daisuke Matsuzaka, former high school baseball superstar, for the Red Sox has alerted American baseball fans to the incredible popularity of high school baseball in Japan. Indeed the two high school tournaments, one in early spring and the other in early summer, are the cash cows of JHSBF and the source of its stranglehold on high school baseball. For those of you over there, think the Final Four drama being played out all day and into the night, every day, to a standing-room-only crowd of 55,000 and a national TV audience, for a whole week. Twice a year. And one is sponsored by the Asahi, and other by the smaller national daily Mainichi. In contrast, the otherwise almighty Yomiuri does not have a tournament of its own. Even more galling to Yomiuri is the fact that the tournaments are so popular, it has no choice but to give them extensive daily coverage on the sports pages and even some ink on the front page. This is in stark contrast to the ironclad editorial control it exercises in professional baseball in favor of the Yomiuri Giants. In fact, my guess is that the Giants, the first professional baseball team in Japan, was started at least in part to counteract its two main media rivals' influence over amateur baseball. (Mainichi also sponsors the once-popular, annual corporate "amateur" tournament.)

So, what does Asahi have to say for it? Good question. It has a special web page that lets you browse all its articles on the fiasco, an improvement on the Yomiuri portal, but still only in Japanese. Asahi does write about the dismay of the schools and students affected. But it comes nowhere near the virtual campaign that Yomiuri is waging against the JHSBF anachronism, nor does it take the JHSBF leadership to task for letting things slide since it cracked down on scholarships in 2005, then only waking up to the problem after a scandal over under-the-table payments from professional baseball teams to amateurs and their handlers surfaced. Go figure.

So, armed with its control over the two tournaments and influence over all levels of governance, the JHSBF leadership has been able to continue to impose a worldview that was outdated many decades ago. It remains to be seen if Yomiuri will be able to force it to come out of its time capsule.

This leaves us with a minor question: If Yomiuri is so eager to slam the Asahi-Mainichi/JHSBF High school baseball cabal, why the Perks rampant for high school ballplayers headline? Well, the use of the term "ballplayer" and not "baseball player" is a dead giveaway that the translator/editor is an American. The US sports media teems with high school basketball stories about money and all sorts of goodies going to star players and the people around them, as well as the school hopping in search of fame and hopefully fortune. Thus, he instinctively went for the angle that he was familiar with.

At least that's my reading.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Korea: Reunification Is Kim Jong-il's Ultimate Nightmare

North Korea has half the population of South Korea, and Korean politics is notable for its powerful regionalism. This is the unified Korea into which Kim Jong-il will be taking an impoverished, perpetual minority.

If only.

Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, the two former military leaders who, as successive presidents, took South Korea into the democratic era, were later tried and convicted of treason, mutiny, and corruption, and were forced to humiliate themselves before they were ultimately allowed to go free. The next two presidents, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, have also seen family members and associates hounded by criminal prosecutions after they left office. If this record is anything to goby, Korean presidents have been incredibly corrupt, or the Korean people are an incredibly vengeful lot. Either way, the future in a unified Korea has not looked so bright for Kim Jong-il.

And now this. If Koreans can exact revenge after more than sixty years have gone by, and on the descendants of the collaborators at that, imagine what will happen to the Kim family and associates, once the border patrol comes down.

Kim Jong-il and his associates are the ultimate status quo power, and rightly so. I suspect all his actions should be interpreted accordingly.

The BBC article adds the comfort women for good measure. If the history of prostitution and slavery is any indication, there must have been many locals more than willing to help the Japanese military fulfill the sexual needs of its soldiers. And there are records. Are the South Koreans going there as well?

In contrast, we Japanese are a forgetful people. It makes us good losers, bad winners.

America: Swampland, the TIME Political Blog Illuminates the Uneasy Relationship between the Mainstream Media and the Blogosphere

Swampland is worth reading for its own sake, with the vivid, penetrating Joe Klein; the biting, racy Anan Marie Cox; and the calm, collected, and insightful Karen Tumulty, except when she's not allowed to be.

Honestly though, they have my respect; they answer to a large readership, and take a lot of lumps. There's no way they can avoid responsibility except by going dark, and they know it. But speaking of going dark, the other blogger and TIME Washington bureau chief Jay Carney, after two very badly handled mishaps, has been very quiet of late. Way to go, Katie.

Japan-China: How Our Children Are Taught to Remember the Past

A few weeks old, but revealing, in a BBC article without the usual spin or two, kids (don't kids stop being "schoolchildren" and become "students" when they turn 14, 15?) in Japan and China are interviewed talking, individually, about the others' country.

The Chinese trope: I hate Japan because they did this, this, and that. Wait, Japan is cool. I'm confused.

The Japanese trope: We did bad things there. We made them change names and stuff.

Japan: Def Poetry Jam with a Big Fat Prize at the End

One of the most popular annual events of the Imperial Household is the "Utakai-hajime", literally, the "beginning of the poetry sessions". Since time immemorial, the Imperial Household had opened the year for poetry with 5-7-5-7-7, 31-syllable tanka created by members of the Imperial and noble households. Since 1879, the best works of commoners have also been included in the event. In selecting the tanka and their authors to be honored at the event, the Imperial Household takes care to ensure that all areas of the public are included in terms of age, gender, occupation, and whatnot. There seems to be an effort to reach out to the Japanese expatriate community as well. It is definitely a Japanese nation thing.

This event, of course, would have little social resonance if poetry were not an integral part of life in Japan. In fact, every general-purpose, national daily in Japan devotes a full page each week to poetry. And not the Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou kind of poetry, but your kind of poetry. That is, thousands upon thousands of amateurs send in tanka, as well as haiku, the much newer and shorter 5-7-5 version that you are all familiar with (note: this is a gross oversimplification, but it will do for now). Typically, top-level professional tanka and haiku poets sift through the entries and choose the ones to be published, and grace the best of them with brief, individualized commentaries.

Why, then, did we become a nation of poets? Natural selection, if you ask me. And though you didn't, I'm going to tell you anyway.

A Japanese custom that goes back even further than the utakai is the utagaki. The Japanese language Wikipeida article tells you that, on a fine day in spring or autumn, we Japanese used to get together outdoors and eat, drink, and be merry, then start throwing ad-lib poems at members of the opposite sex. (Or so it seems; the article does not mention gay/lesbian utagaki. NTTAWWT.) The recipient of the poem would respond with a poem of his/her own, and so the two would be going back and forth, like dueling rappers, until one of them couldn't keep up and would say, damn, I'm f%&ked. And the loser would have to "submit" and go off into the bushes with the winner, giving the event the air of a Def Poetry Jam with a big fat prize at the end.

This is believed to have been a kind of fertility rite, and it sure would have made for a lot of babies conceived in sing-song. And so it stands to reason that, over time, the better and more prolific poetry genes crowded out the less well-endowed. Geneticists will tell you than a small evolutionary edge will lead to total domination in a geological instant.

In America, of course, the poetic couple would never survive to have children, since, after finding themselves alone in the bushes, working up to an R rating, Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers would show up and ruin the fun.

And that is why Japan is good at poetry, and America is good at movies.

Thank you, Ms. Intercultural communications professor, for inspiring this post with your query about somewhat similar cultural customs in Southeast Asia. The Wikipeida article actually discusses the similarities.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

France: Left? Right? Depends on Where You're Standing, I Suppose.

A friend who had read this post came up to me and asked why I liked Nicholas Sarkozy. I think he must have been kidding, because he's normally very perceptive. However, it is interesting that my point, which was to wonder whether the asymmetry in calling Sarkozy right-wing while consistently labeling Royale as socialist could be betraying any political biases, could so easily be interpreted, if only in jest, as an expression of my own ideological preference.

Now today, I came across The Demonization of Sarkozy, written by someone who would likely pee in his pants if Mr. Sarkozy so much as looked at him. And sure enough, as early as the second sentence comes this journalistic gem:

"Ms Royal, the left-wing candidate who is about four points behind the conservative Mr. Sarkozy in polls, denounced her opponent for the 'great violence' and 'brutality' of a campaign that she maintained was frightening away voters".