Monday, April 30, 2007

America: It Is Clear that Tim Harford Is Not an Economist. Can You Tell Why?

To quote:

"There are anomalies. Steve 'Freakonomics' Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh calculated that Chicago drug dealers seemed to value their entire lives at $50,000 to $100,000—low indeed, even for poor young men whose career choice indicates a taste for risks."

Can you spot the error? Multiple errors, actually.

America: TIME Scores an Exclusive Interview with George Tenet. The Price? Go figure.

No comment.

Japan: What Do I think of Prime Minister Abe's Trip to the US?

Since you asked…   No, really.

A success, that's what. Mr. Abe accomplished about as much he could have hoped for. As I had said before, contrary to the composite wishes of the LAT editorial board and other voices in the AMSM, the Japanese government did not issue an apology and the Emperor did not issue an apology, and demonstrators greeted Mr. Abe. Nevertheless, he received President Bush's blessings, and, much more significantly as a non-gimmie, seems to have received the understanding of the Congressional leadership, including Nancy Pelosi (and when have you seen President Bush and Speaker Pelosi not clash on any political issue?)

Like it or not, Mr. Abe got the issue out of his way. Now, all he has to do is to remember not to induge his penchant to overexplain. Come to think of it, Mssrs. Kyuma, Matsuoka, Yanagisawa, Omi, Shizaki, et al, have been uncommonly quiet of late. Given Mr. Abe's bedrock support (people genuinely don't dislike him), and the general public confidence in the performance of the economy, I think he has turned the corner. Whether it's a 90-degree turn or a 180 I have no idea. But you may not have been so off the mark after all, Ian.

Back to work.

America: Ex-CIA Officials Speak Out over George Tenet's New Book, and THEY ARE FURIOUS.

Was it Charles Barkley who said of his autobiography when questioned about a typically outrageous quote, I don't know, I haven't read the book?

Read this. It's an open letter from ex-CIA officials taking George Tenet to task for betraying CIA officers and analysts and failing to meet his obligations to the people of the United States and urging him "to return the Medal of Freedom you received from President George Bush [I didn't say that, they did] and "dedicate a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed and wounded in Iraq." (But not to Iraqis... I know, it's none of my business)

People seem to be uniformly furious about this. A friend of mine who works in Washington brought it up the other day unbidden, told me he'd never been so angry like this before, and wanted to know what I thought. To save time, I asked him to read my blog.

Harder to fathom, though, is why George Tenet decided to do this in the first place. This is not an O.J. Simpson, or an Apprentice flameout we are talking about here. Is destroying your reputation and cutting your ties to your former colleagues and everybody else that you want to have come to your funeral worth the million dollars, give or take a few (million)? Is he going through a rough divorce? Did he borrow money and put it all on Enron?

And if he blames in on his book agent, tell him there's a couple of bridges in Nigeria I'd like to sell him.

For those of you who get your news exclusively from this blog, I lifted it off this CNN post.

America: If Any of This SectarianTrashing of the Iraqi Security Forces Are True, Then Mr.Bush Is Wasting Other People's Time, among Other Things

Would you care to read this WaPo article? If you don't, the headline and the subtitle:
"Maliki's Office Is Seen Behind Purge in Forces
Some Commanders Had Pursued Militias"

say it all. They are, if anything, an understatement. The allegations, some of it coming from US officers quoted by name and rank, make the US Attorney General's office look saintly by comparison. If true, the "surge", whatever it manages to do tactically, is doomed. And it won't matter if David Petraeus is as good a soldier as everyone claims.

Japan: Iraq Continues to Take the Wind Out of Constitutional Amendment

Yes, the story is a little old, but it looks like I'll never get around to writing that long piece on…

The Yomiuri has been conducting polls on constitutional amendment for a long time. Support for amendment increased steadily until it crested in 2004, but has fallen every year since.

The article says that "as constitutional amendment has taken on an air of reality, it appears that some people among amendment supporters have emerged who want to watch carefully movements concerning amendment (ed. My translation).*" I know, the explanation looks fishy in Japanese as well. The Yomiuri has been staunchly pro-amendment, so the much longer hard copy article didn't shed much light on the reason either. But I think I know why: it's Iraq.

Remember how the majority of the Japanese public opposed sending troops to Iraq, but Prime Minister Koizumi went and did it anyway? But when three Japanese working for NGOs were taken hostage (later released unharmed), there was little outcry gainst our JSDF presence there, or even, for that matter, much sympathy for the victims. (It didn't help that it appeared that some of them were seen as leftists more interested in tallying political scores.) And when one reckless Japanese man was taken hostage and later beheaded, even the pacifist and somewhat leftish Asahi opined in its editorial to the effect that that was no time to consider acceding to the insurgent's demands and packing it in. The Japanese people, collectively speaking, even some parts that opposed Mr. Koizumi, was proud of our soldiers.

We have the Australians to thank for getting them all back safe and sound, so there are no stories about mounting casualties. (Iraqis don't matter; we're no better than you.) Still, the years of civil war have taken their toll. As Fumio "I was against the war on Iraq, now I'm for it" Kyuma, our Defense Minister, has admitted (and many others in the LDP will admit), the nuclear umbrella is the main reason Japan continues to stand by the US when the chips are down. And looking to the future, some people are surely thinking, it might not be such a bad thing after all to have an excuse against being so out front when the US comes a-calling for collective self-defense.

The pro-amendment Yomiuri, it seems, does not want to connect the dots here.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

America: Stop Talking about Hillary Clinton's Accent

This is about as fair as it gets in the MSM when it comes to the story about her accent shifting with the audience. Still, the writer has to get a dig in, with this:

"But observers have long noted her tendency to speak Southern primarily in front of black audiences, as she did with Sharpton last week and at a civil rights commemoration in Selma in March.

"All the Democrats are vying for the support of black voters _ a crucial constituency especially in the early voting state of South Carolina. In 2004, black voters comprised nearly 50 percent of the state's Democratic primary turnout.

Ah, insinuation: the first, second, and last refuge of the lazy journalist. For what is the typical palaver of the Mr. African-American Everyman if it is not the legacy of the slavery that flourished in the South and the segregation that continued well after the Civil War? There is a reason Al Sharpton does not talk like Mike Bloomberg.

Polyglots unconsciously adopt the speech patterns of whatever linguistic group he/she is conversing with. If anything, Hillary showed an uncalculating empathy, something that she has often been accused of lacking.

Friday, April 27, 2007

North Korea: The Abduction Saga Continues with an Arrest Warrant. So Who Wants to Know?

Unless you are nuts about Japan (which you must be, if you're reading this blog, c'mon), you have missed the biggest long-running JMSM story over the last couple of months, which is the revelation of a probable double murder of a Japanese-North Korean couple, and the abduction of their two small children by North Korean agents headquartered in Tokyo, which has culminated in an arrest warrant for a prime suspect, likely living in North Korea.

Now, I know from my experience in New York in 2001 that the response from across the pond will be: What about the nuclear issue/(and now) the comfort women? And indeed I myself have had such thoughts. But, as hard as it is for some (including yours truly) to believe, I am Japanese. And from that perspective, I realize that the abductee issue does not matter to you because it's about us, not you. It's the same story with Iraq; for you, it's about your soldiers dying, not the Iraqi civilian casualties. It's Us, and The Others, as far back in history as you can see. Empathy, like the weak force, diminishes greatly with distance.

So, with that note, Happy Golden Week!

Something the foreign MSM will focus on, if they ever get around to it, is something I too cannot understand. It's the timing of the reinvigorated investigation, as well as the way information has been strung out week after week. After all, it's been more than thirty years since it happened. Conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly have a ball speculating over the political motives that may have gone into this renewed interest. But that is one of the least of my concern these days.

America: I Can Feel Tony Allen Can Feel Mr. Tenet's Pain

Sorry to be in the mood for trivia…

If you think slamdunks can be detrimental to your career, just ask Tony Allen of the Boston Celtics. According to Mark Murphy of the Boston Globe, "[a]fter scoring a career-high 30 points against Denver on Dec. 15, he averaged 21 points on 55.7 percent shooting and 5.5 rebounds during a seven-game stretch from Dec. 29 through Jan. 10. The latter date is infamous. That's when Allen attempted a gratuitous dunk after the whistle and tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee." This is the second serious knee injury in his career, and no one knows if he will ever regain the explosive athleticism with which he had earned a place in the Celtics starting line-up. If he doesn't, he will be just another earthbound, undersized, under-experienced shooting guard, the last thing the Celtics, or, for that matter, the NBA, need. His career is very much up in the air as he endures a long rehab.

But Mr. Allen has it easy compared to George Tenet. You see, Mr. Tenet, if you will believe him (and I see no reason not to do so), has already seen his entire career go down the drain, all because of a silly slamdunk. And it only happened because that vice president of the errant shooting eye mangled his metaphor (IT WASN’T EVEN A REAL DUNK!) beyond all recognition. Oh, I can just imagine Mr. Tenet protesting, to no avail, with Mssrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Mme. Rice, indeed anyone who would listen, including the president himself, that his remarks were being misused in the prosecution of a policy with which he vehemently disagreed. And because of this, five years later, he finds himself unemployable. No wonder he feels compelled to resort to this confessional, to launch a career as a vice-president critic. I cannot wait for the book.

Yes, I feel for Mr. Tenet. I feel for him so much, that I will not begrudge his keeping that Presidential Medal of Freedom that was so graciously draped around his neck by the president himself. After all, if Mr. Allen is going to get to keep his $1.87 million for 2007-2008 whether or not he ever plays another game in the NBA (even though he has no one but himself to blame for his latest misfortune), then surely Mr. Tenet should be allowed to hold on to a mere tin-star keepsake from his glory days in the White House.

And thank you, Stephen G. Esq., for lending me Bambi vs. Godzilla by David Mamet. I can actually hear faint echoes of Mr. Mamet's voice and even politics (Mr. Shallow, that's my name) in this admittedly aeasthetically inferior piece of scribbling, I do.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Japan: The Real Meaning of the Okinawa Election Results

In today's Upper House by-elections, the DPJ took Fukushima, while the LDP grabbed the seat that the DPJ incumbent had vacated to run (unsuccessfully) for governor. So the split is actually a net gain for the LDP.

But the real story can be seen in Ginowan City, whose citizens have long suffered under the yoke of the US Hutenma airbase taking out a huge chunk of prime real estate. The Ginowan incumbent, supported by the DPJ among otheres, had opposed the Japan-US agreement to transfer to the city of Nago, because he wanted the airbase out of Okinawa altogether. This platform, if admirable, was surely an act of political suicide. The Ginowanese, nevertheless, enthusiastically supported it, if the results mean anything.

Can this incredible act of self-sacrifice and altruism be explained in any other way than by imagining what the Ginowan local economy will look like, if the airbase ever leaves?

France: Does the English Language MSM Consistently Label Sarkozy a Right-Winger or What?

Does the English language MSM consistently label Nicolas Sarkozy a right-winger, while it unfailingly calls Segolene Royal a socialist? But is Sarkozy a nativist? Is he going to abolish social welfare? And is Royal suggesting nationalizing core industries and collectivizing agriculture?

Given the existence of Jean-Marie Le Pen as the "far-right" candidate, "right-wing" seems to be the more sinister moniker of the two.

The two Japanese Upper House elections being held today do not excite me. The DPJ seems poised to win in Fukushima, while the Okinawa seat remains up in the air, and the outcome will obviously affect the numbers game in the July election. However, it will not otherwise impact the dynamics; what happens in Okinawa stays in Okinawa.

A DPJ victory, particularly with party leader Ozawa tacking to the left, certainly won't help the realignment of US bases there. But then, things there will not be moving any time soon anyway.

Friday, April 20, 2007

America: Five Million Emails Missing in 22 Political Accounts?

Five Million Emails Missing in 22 Political Accounts? That's more than 250,000 emails lost per account. Assuming they've all had these accounts for the full six years, they each lost a hundred White House (not political) emails per day. And you can bet they weren't getting Viagra ads. You wonder how they got any work done.

See Jon Stewart deal with it.

Japan: It's Official, Japan Now Has a Basic Act on the Oceans. So, How Often Do You See the DPJ and the JCP Agree on Anything?

The Diet passed the Basic Act on the Oceans (my translation) today. The ruling LDP and Komeito, the main opposition party DPJ, the Japan Communist Party, and the People's New Party (led by LDP castaway Shizuka Kamei) all voted for the bill. (One wonders what the rump Socialist Party objected to.) This should serve to dispel in a way I had not anticipated the myth of the rising right-wing nationalism that people like Steven Clemons and Francis Fukushima perpetuate, courtesy of the English-language mainstream media.

The driving force here is, of course, China and South Korea's aggression, real or imagined (I have no time to do the research), in the area. It seems everybody is nationalist when it comes to the near abroad and in between. But then, anybody who knows squat about post-war Japan will remember that the right and left made common cause against the mainstream middle in 1960, as they joined forces to oppose, unsuccessfully, the upgrading of the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty. The people who ignore history condemn us to see them write about it.

South Korea, China, the US; throw a stone, and you will hit a nationalist, and Japan is no exception. Perhaps it is time for the MSM to retire that old cliché they trot out every time China or South Korea takes offense, or when a loser on the fringes of the dwindling ultra right wing acts out his rage on a politician he resents.

I have a lot more to say on the decline of the so-called right wing and its implications. But I need time to work on it.

Stay tuned.

Work Gets in My Eyes; or, Notice Regarding My Hiatus, Including a Very Brief Preview of Sorts

The following is the reply I gave to an inquiry from garret. And thanks also, garret, for not only putting up Karin's Japanland inquiry on your website but buying her book as well.

Sorry guys. Work got in the way. Haven't had the time to do the factchecking and calibrating I need to do to post. I have a one-month-old piece on the second Norimitsu Ohnishi article lying around in my PC for which I never had the time to read the original testimony of the three women.

I have a lot of stuff in my head though, including a piece that puts four actions from the Chinese side during Wen Jiabao's visit to Japan and what they mean, a angle on the Wolfwitz affair that the MSM studiously tiptoes around (I don't think I will go there after all), the decline of the Japanese right-wing and what that means to Japanse politics, and other stuff that the Western MSM doesn't go into. Stay tuned.

It's hard to put into words how much your inquiry means to me. So you'll have to settle for: Thank you.