Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Online NYT Edit Trips Up Saletan on Japanese Response to Swine Flu

The usually reliable William Saletan writes in “First They Came for Mexicans” Slate (5 May 2009):
…Japan began denying visas to Mexicans on arrival.
“Denying visas…on arrival” doesn’t make sense; you’re supposed to obtain visas before you come. In fact, what happened was that Japan temporarily suspended the waiver of visa requirements. Given the disproportionately high incidence of reported cases in Mexico—just imagine the likely extent of unreported cases—it is not unreasonable to resume visa requirements; air flights between Mexico and Japan continue.

I think this was an honest mistake on Saletan’s part, not carelessness. Note that the NYT report that he links to in order to back up his claim makes no mention of Japan at all. The writers of the NYT must have excised the (likely slightly incorrect) reference to Japanese action after they found out that they were wrong. Even newspapers sometimes alter their online articles without any notice; this must have been one of such cases.

Online sources are tricky, and there’s not too much the sources themselves can do about it.

As of this post, Saletan has not corrected his report, though that is not my point here.


Per said...

Honestly, this is a question of semantics. Although technically you are right, Japan suspended the visa waiver programme, which means that Mexicans will no longer be granted permission to stay on arrival, the consequense is exactly the same, so is the understanding of the general public. And, in my opinion, the semantic difference in no way defends the Japanese government's action, which, as the Chinese reactions described in the article on Slate is clearly discriminatory and unproportional to the treath. As this spreads, will Japan suspend its visa waiver programme to other countries like the US?

Jun Okumura said...

Per: You are wrong. Your point is debatable only if you restate it as a claim that the Japanese authorities are denying visas to Mexico citizens. Is that your claim? It would then become valid only if you can show that they are doing so arbitrarily. Can you? And you would still have to give a good reason why there is no longer any mention of Japan in the NYT report, which, as you may have noticed, is the point of my post. What were the facts? And what was the claim?

If anyone is interested in the subject of visa requirement waivers by the Japanese government, look here. Note that Japan does not have visa exemption arrangements with any ASEAN member countries except Singapore and Brunei. It does not have one with India, Brazil, Russia, or South Africa either. It has a very limited arrangement with China for el-hi students on short school excursions to Japan. So much for our relations with ASEAN and the BRICS; they’re being treated as badly as Mexico.

On a more substantive point, that is, most of the reported deaths have occurred in Mexico. Some of this is likely the result of the quality and quantity of medical care that patients in Mexico receive, but there is also a strong suspicion that another reason for the unusually high mortality rate is that many cases go unreported, which would mean that the disease is even more widespread than the WHO or even Mexican figures show. Does this warrant the implementation of a pre-departure screening process that focuses? Not being an epidemiologist and unmindful of the details of the issue, I don’t have an opinion on that, other than that to say that it does not deserve to be dismissed outright.

I assume that your mention of the United States is merely rhetorical and is pendant on your basic assumption that the difference between the facts and Saletan’s now (through no obvious fault of his own) unsubstantiated claim is merely “semantic”, so I needn’t go there.

Per said...

It is semantic. It says that Mexicans are denied visa on arrival, not visas in general. Denying visa on arrival (if visa on arrival was a possiblity) would have the exact same effect as suspending the visa waiver programme, namely that Mexicans have to apply for visas at home before they leave. (and in common speak visa on arrival and a visa waiver is often used in the same way: "you don't need a visa" = you don't need to apply for a visa in advance).

As to your point that Japan do not have visa waivers for many other countries , yes, that is correct, but the point here is that there was a programme that was suspended on the basis of a health scare that most likely is overblown, and is spreading around the world anyway. Instead of taking health policy measures, one resorts to immigration law, which in my opinion is a very dangerous precedent in case of a real epidemic.

Jun Okumura said...

Per: You and I have obviously have a different understanding of the English language as well as immigration procedures. “Denying” a visa and “requiring” a visa are very different things semantically and practically. Note that the Mexican government to the best of my knowledge has not complained. Moreover, the temporary imposition of visa requirements is only one part of a larger set of measures that the Japanese government is taking.

Per said...

Denying visa on arrival means requiring visa in advance. Suspending the visa waiver programme means requiring visa in advance. The difference is semantic to anyone but bureaucrats like us. I see you haven't lost your bureacratic touch.

As I guess you are well aware of having been posted abroad, the balance of power between countries means a complaint from Mexico would be difficult.

Sophie said...

I hope the Japanese Health Authority has done the same for US citizens. Their country is badly touched by the epidemic too and tens of millions go without social security, so that they won’t get to the doctor fast if they are ill, putting all other citizens at risk.

MTC said...

Per -

Okumura-san's point is that Saletan's phrase is both nonsensical and defamatory. The GOJ is not denying anything -- it has reinstated a requirement it had been ignoring. Saletan could have reported "Japan resumed its visa requirements for Mexican citizens wishing to enter Japan" --but that was just not juicy enough for the author.

Okumura-san -

I am not sure Will Saletan should be described as "usually reliable." I think the characterizaion "frequently disturbing" would be more apt.

Jun Okumura said...

Sophie: The U.S. cases are still few and far between, so I don’t see that happening soon. Incidentally, there’s a funny story in today’s (13 May) Yomiuri that says that most people wearing masks in South Korea (three confirmed cases!) are Japanese tourists. But it also says that Singaporeans (no confirmed cases) are snapping them up like mad. Few people are wearing masks in Japan now, but I assume they’ll be all the rage when a few with that particular variety of flu slips through the border checkpoints.

MTC: You and I will have to agree to disagree on Saletan. Now what Saletan said in that instance didn’t quite make sense, so I decided to check the NYT article. The fact that NYT had edited out the information by the time I got there suggests to me that the report itself had been at fault, not Saletan. My guess is that the original report misinterpreted the waiver suspension and imagined visa-less Mexicans being sent away on “arrival”. In fact, such things may have happened during the switchover. Imagine a Mexican expat planning a trip to Japan and the suspension coming on the very day that he was going to leave. It’s not hard to imagine his visa-less status becoming an issue when and only when he arrives in Japan. But we’ll never know because NYT simply erased the relevant information.

Aceface said...

"I am not sure Will Saletan should be described as "usually reliable." I think the characterizaion "frequently disturbing" would be more apt."

I would remove "Will Saletan" and replace it with "The New York Times reporting on Japan".

Jun Okumura said...

Aceface: I’m not sure what the problem is with the NYT, personal, institutional or both. The issue I had with Norimitsu Onishi—he seems to have been the subject of particular controversy as well—was his singular focus on the socio-economic outsider. That meant that he gave major economic, political, and cultural trends and events little coverage and then often only from his distinctive perspective. More broadly, I think this reflects a lack of resources to exercise product control at the NYT. I looked around recently and found that he appears to be reporting out of Indonesia now. Perhaps some Indonesian bloggers will begin tracking him there.

Aceface said...

I give some credits to Onishi since at least he knows what he's writing about.

And I don't think this is the matter only limited to NYT,
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"seems to be the zeitgeist in Japan reporting by foreign media these days.

Jun Okumura said...

I agree, Aceface. Onishi, for better or worse, knows what he’s doing. At the other end of the spectrum is Martin Fackler, who sometimes appears to be capable of believing anything told to him with a straight face. More generally on Japanese news, I find the wire services generally competent and reliable, though I’d be a little careful with Bloomberg when it’s not straight economic reporting. With magazines, quality varies wildly with the writer, except The Economist—which of course claims to be a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Here's some of the latest examples.


Aceface said...

The above anonymous is from me.

And I just learned Steven Levitt isn't that much of know-it-all when it comes to Monogolians and Sumo wrestling.
Nice job at comment section.Mr.Okumura.

Jun Okumura said...

Hey, Aceface, thanks for noticing. I remember thinking, this guy is as just as prone to relying on preconceptions and prejudices that are not founded in fact as…me. I believe there was more to the exchange between us than the Freakonomics blog comment section, but the short of it is that I lost interest in that blog after it. It was a disappointment for me, since I enjoyed the book. Since then, I’ve read Daniel Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, which I find to be a more charming introduction to behavioral economics (which I still have a hard time thinking of as anything but applied psychology NTTIAWWT). Maybe that exchange colored my perceptions of the two books.

Aceface said...

And now I'm becoming more skeptical about the book itself.To check what he writes you have to know both economical theory and trivialized topic Levitt chose for his analysis.

I just had one of my best friend at work left his job and now starts studying under Levitt in Chicago and I also know a bit about Mongolians and Sumo world since my Mongolian wife was a translator of parents of Hakuho when they were in Japan.
So this Freakonomics blog entry was a bit shocking to me.This is not just the matter of preconceptions and prejudices.They are completly lacking the basic research on the subject.

More and more I lose faith in English media report on Japan.If only we could kick these guys into Kisha club boot camp for a few weeks.....

Jun Okumura said...

Aceface: Actually, if I remember correctly, most of the studies that Freakonomics draws on are the work of other academics. That’s the major contrast between that and Ariely’s book. Ariely wrote a highly accessible book on behavioral economics for the layperson. Freakonomics is a piece of economic journalism, much in the way of “Long Tail” and “Tipping Point”. Leavitt likely gave his journalist co-writer material for the book.

I think there’s very little distance between what you and I are saying about Leavitt’s errors regarding Mongolians and Sumo; basically, when he ventures beyond his area of expertise, he’s just as dumb, opinionated and careless as the rest of us. (More generally, this is why we should be careful of “experts”.) But for you, it hits harder because it’s personal. I can understand that.

Kisha club”. HAHA.

TokyoTom said...

Jun, did you see Ariely`s comments on moral hazard and the financial crisis? I commented here:


Jun Okumura said...

Yes, I remember seeing that, Tom. Incidentally, that personal story is also told in his book.

Regarding your point, we’re not going to get rid of limited liability any time soon. I mean, most of modern history is intimately linked to limited liability. I think that one morally consistent position is to restore unlimited liability for torts or their jurisdictional equivalents. But I can see problems with this in the real world.

Roy Berman said...

"The Economist—which of course claims to be a newspaper"

From what I understand, the reason The Economist calls itself a newspaper is because it is legally registered as a newspaper, and not a magazine, under British law. I am not entirely clear if this is merely because they date back to a time before the modern weekly newsmagazine, or because of some sort of advantage that newspapers get in the postal regulations.

Jun Okumura said...

Roy: You’re right about the registration. I remember the decision being attributed to postal rates, though the original motive may not have been pecuniary. In any case, before the advent of the modern stapler, there couldn’t have been many ways to distinguish between a newspaper and a news magazine. And I can’t see it switching even if the distinction ceases to have any real meaning.