Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fukushima Reports: Or, Whom Do I Trust?

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), the investigation commission set up by the Diet, issued its 600+ page report on the Fukushima Accident on July 5. Yesterday, on July 23, the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations (ICANPS), the government commission, issued its final 800+ page report. Beyond what I am sure are sensible recommendations that the reports offer, there is a lot of attention being paid to the following questions:

1) Did TEPCO management consider the withdrawal of all personnel from Fukushima Daiichi? 2) Did Prime Minister Kan’s interventions hamper the emergency response efforts?

The two questions are related. If the answer to the first question is yes, then Prime Minister Kan arguably saved Japan from an even worse fate by insisting that TEPCO hold its ground. That presumably would make up for any obstacles that Kan’s interventions ostensibly placed in the way of the broader response even the answer to the second questions was yes. I would ask a couple of related but different questions, though.

1) Did all the government figures who interacted with TEPCO management believe that it was considering the withdrawal of all personnel from Fukushima Daiichi? 2) Did Prime Minister Kan’s interventions magnify the scope of the accident or its human toll?

The answer to the first question appears to be an unequivocal yes, in which case Kan did make the right decision, and a potentially game-changing one at that. Besides, TEPCO’s defense turns on the difference between the words 退避, which it claims it used, and 引き揚げ, which it did not. This is a fine distinction to make to say the least—obscure, actually—particularly when TEPCO appears to have failed to mention its alleged intent to leave a skeleton crew behind. As for my second question, I’ve seen nothing so far that indicates that Kan’s interventions, however annoying and potentially dangerous they may have been, actually did serious harm.

My interest lies elsewhere. Specifically, was the reactor significantly damaged by earthquake itself even before the tsunami cut off all emergency power supplies? This, and not Kan’s share of the blame, should be the focus of attention in my view. After all, reviewing the prime minister’s role is but one, relatively small, part of the redesigning that the emergency preparedness and response framework. By contrast, our perception of the cause or causes of the damage to the reactors determines the extent of safety measures necessary to maintain the risk of meltdown within acceptable proportions and indeed whether some reactors can be reactivated at all. The ICANPS report concludes that the earthquake itself did not cause the damage, while the NAIIC report does not discard the possibility.

So who are we to believe? The memberships of the two bodies are remarkably similar, each consisting of scientists and engineers representing the relevant disciplines, one science writer, legal professionals, a retired diplomat, and a Fukushima representative. They each also list a couple of senior technical advisors. But ICANPS goes further and lists eight scientists and engineers in three teams that investigated specific issues in detail, one of which appears to have done the technical work that led to the conclusion that the tsunami was the sole cause of the release of radioactive material including the eventual meltdown. With that, I think that I’ll wait for the jury of their peers, unless someone actually pays me to read the full reports. (And yes, I am aware that there are yet another two. Hmm, I think I’m going to ask B--- G---------. for…)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Things People Don’t Talk about (2): Why Did They Let Hatoyama Get Away with This?

Last Friday, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, currently under suspension from the DPJ for his lower house vote against the VAT tax hike and other tax and social safety net compromise legislation, joined the ranks of the regular TGIF protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Office complex, picked up a megaphone and told the crowd that he too thought that nuclear power sucks… then apparently went in and gave a piece of his mind to the Chief Cabinet Secretary. Folks, this camel not only peed into the tent, it then walked in, sat down, and dropped a load on the rug.

I’m not really surprised that he did this; he is what he is. I’m also not surprised that the security forces didn’t seize and blindfold him and prop him up against a wall… after all, Japan is a practicing democracy whose citizens have access to due process. I’m also not surprised that the Chief Cabinet Secretary not only let him onto the premises but also let him gave him an earful. And I’m not even surprised that the DPJ made no move to punish this individual for what was at least a violation of the spirit, if not the words, of the terms of his suspension. So perhaps I should not be surprised that the Japanese media did not drop its collective jaw over what happened, or failed to happen, after he exercised his human rights during his suspension from the DPJ. Voting against a DPJ colleague on a non-confidence vote seems to be the only thing that gets you expelled from the DPJ, and the media could care less.

Things People Don’t Talk about (1): Kim Jong Il Gets No Filial Piety

The most prevalent media speculation around Kim Jong Un’s mystery woman is that she’s his wife. Whatever. But here’s what I don’t get:

The Confucian tradition requires that a dutiful son spends three years in mourning and Kim Jong Il did wait three years after his father’s death before taking up the post of General Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea in 1997 and generally laid low in the meantime (though he did assume the post of Chairman of the National Defence Commission in 1994). Yet here was Kim Jong Un, enjoying himself at a pop concert with the smiling mystery woman at his side. (The music itself was eerily reminiscent of early 50s Japanese kayokyoku, or Japanese post-WW II pop music.) Add to that his latest summons to the Japanese chef who apparently doubled as a make nanny for the two younger Kim brothers, and here’s a guy who is not afraid to live it up so soon after his father and Dear Leader’s death.

Is anyone talking about this?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What the 15% Nuclear Power Target Could Mean to You

Alright, so a 15% target for nuclear power it is. So what? Well, if you’re a financial analyst doing utilities, you should put all the existing nuclear reactors on an Excel spreadsheet, do a few calculations using government assumptions to figure out total capacity, then begin retiring existing power plants until you reach that number. Those sitting on live fault lines are candidates for immediate decommissioning, while aging plants, particularly those with troubled histories, are also likely to be decommissioned when their current license expires. Oh, and prospects for the Fukushima Daini units being fired up again look dim. Do this exercise and you’ll have a working hypothesis on the impact that the write-downs and decommissioning costs will have on individual power companies. Match the results to their market performance, and you could have an investment strategy that is likely to make some money for you by the end of another couple of years, when we’ll know conclusively what is going to happen to the existing power plants as well as the ones under construction. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re doing this already if you are one.

Power Company Employees Unwelcome Guests at Public Hearings

Here are the basic facts: The national government is holding public hearings around the country to seek input for the formulation of Japan’s mid- to long-term energy policy. It is putting forth three options—0%, 15%, and 20~25%—for the share of nuclear power in total electricity supply in 2030 for public comment. At each hearing, for each option, three people favoring that option is selected in an otherwise random two-step process to give their opinions. The controversy arose when two of the hearings turned up one power company employee each arguing for the maximal 20~25% option (naturally). There was nothing surreptitious about their presence. They identified themselves as utility employees when their turn to speak came. Still, there was a significant public outcry over this, the government was not amused, and power company employees wound up being effectively banned from future sessions.

There is a certain logic to this. After all, the power companies have a powerful interest in keeping as much of the nuclear power plants as possible. But if that’s enough to keep the hearings off limits to power company employees, couldn’t the same thing be said for solar power companies, or corporations, such as Softbank, planning to go into the solar power business? Solar panel vendors? The list goes on. And it’s not as if the government and its advisory council were going to be bamboozled by EPCO rhetoric this late in the day into maxing out. It’s a matter of optics. If they let nature run its course, the people voicing their opinions would be overwhelmingly in favor of the 0% option.* This is no mystery. Not many people are rabidly pro-nuclear, while the Fukushima accident has made the anti-nuclear folks even more passionate than before and also shrunk the middle ground. Nevertheless, the government has managed to set up, with little fanfare, a national hearing caravan that gives proponents of each option equal voice, almost surely with the objective of legitimizing the middle-ground option. So the last thing that the government must have wanted was to draw negative publicity about power companies trying to influence the process. Note: * 161 out of the 352 people who applied for the Nagoya hearings wished to express their views, according to this Yomiuri report. This number was narrowed down to 120 by drawing lots. Of the 120161, 106 favored 0%, 18 favored 15%, and 37 favored 20~25%. I assume that this kind of breakdown is typical

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Politics: in General and More Specifically on Nuclear Power

The Wednesday Q&A, Thursday follow-up inserted(with date added), plus footnotes for this blog.

A. General political situation
1. How would you describe the current political climate in Japan? In particular, how fragile is the DPJ’s situation following the defection of Ozawa and other members?
Fluid, a situation that will continue even after a snap election, since the only combination of two parties that secures an upper house majority will be what would be an uneasy alliance at best between the DPJ and LDP. Expect more defections from the anti-VAT hike, anti-nuclear (whatever that means), anti-TPP crowd, and anther likely shakeup after the 2013 upper house election. The DPJ’s situation will look increasingly fragile as the realization sinks in for the remaining anti crowd that it’s not going to be easy to run for reelection under a VAT-hike, nuclear startup, TPP(?) platform in the first place, a prospect that becomes even more difficult when you’re actually opposed to it.
2. What is, in your view, the likelihood of a resignation/dissolution of the Lower House this year?
Extremely high. It’s the arithmetic. The LDP and Komeito want a snap election now now, and the DPJ-PNP coalition does not have the votes to push the deficit bond authorization bill through the upper house or override it with a lower house supermajority. Theoretically, the coalition could still carry the upper house if it can bring all the other parties on board for the vote. Most of them, perhaps all except the Your Party, don’t want a snap election, but Ozawa propping up Noda? The Communist Party? (Q: So do you mean the ruling coalition doesn’t want a snap election, but will be forced to have one because they’re too divided?) (Jul. 19) General political situation
3. How would you describe the current political climate in Japan? In particular, how fragile is the DPJ’s situation following the defection of Ozawa and other members?
Fluid, a situation that will continue even after a snap election, since the only combination of two parties that secures an upper house majority will be what would be an uneasy alliance at best between the DPJ and LDP. Expect more defections from the anti-VAT hike, anti-nuclear (whatever that means), anti-TPP crowd, and anther likely shakeup after the 2013 upper house election. The DPJ’s situation will look increasingly fragile as the realization sinks in for the remaining anti crowd that it’s not going to be easy to run for reelection under a VAT-hike, nuclear startup, TPP(?) platform in the first place, a prospect that becomes even more difficult when you’re actually opposed to it.
4. What is, in your view, the likelihood of a resignation/dissolution of the Lower House this year?
Extremely high. It’s the arithmetic. The LDP and Komeito want a snap election now now, and the DPJ-PNP coalition does not have the votes to push the deficit bond authorization bill through the upper house or override it with a lower house supermajority. Theoretically, the coalition could still carry the upper house if it can bring all the other parties on board for the vote. Most of them, perhaps all except the Your Party, don’t want a snap election, but Ozawa propping up Noda? The Communist Party?
(Q: So do you mean the ruling coalition doesn’t want a snap election, but will be forced to have one because they’re too divided?) (Jul. 19) My point is that the ruling coalition no longer has the upper house votes to pass, among other things, the deficit bond authorization bill, for which it will have to offer a snap election to get the LDP (and Komeito) to agree. It could theoretically get it done with Ozawa+Komeito support, but that’s preposterous.
5. If it occurred, what could be the consequences on the nuclear debate? I’m thinking particularly about the process to nominate the members of the Nuclear regulatory council, and the definition of a new energy policy.
Minimal, unless the DPJ and LDP cannot muster a post-election majority between the two. (Q: Do you mean there will be an alliance between DPJ and LDP? (Jul. 19) Sooner or later, I think. Otherwise, it’s deja supergridlock all over again.) And not as much as you think even if they don’t, barring a sea change in the lower house balance that tosses both of them out of power. The initial members of the NRC can be appointed without the consent of the two houses, if it comes to that (a good example of the devil in the legislative details). Nuclear power plants sitting on active fault lines will be mothballed, likely forever, while the others gradually come back online over the short-term (~2 years), although the mid-term (2~5 years) outlook for the ones under construction are a little more iffy. These things have some obvious, relatively hard-to-move consequences for the long-term. (Power plants, even gas turbines, last a long time.) Beyond that, I’m not willing to read anything into hypothetical election results.
(Rather than the result of elections, my intended question was more on whether the political void of an election would lead to the suspension of all important decision-making, hence possibly delaying the process to restart other plants, NRC nominations, etc. (Jul. 19)
Good question. The NRC nominations are likely to take time anyway, since it’s harder than finding five virgins in a hippie commune, as Dan Rather would say. A major post-election shakeup in party alliances—the Big Bang we’ve all been waiting for?—would certainly push the schedule back more than the few weeks, if that much, from a more modest election outcome and bring more uncertainty to the overall outcome.)

B. Debate on nuclear energy
1. How important is the nuclear issue in Japanese politics right now?
This is a very broad question, with such a broad array of potential answers. The proportion of the Japanese public that says no to nuclear power forever and ever is actually small. That means that we have the nuclear version of the old joke that begins with the line, “Will you sleep with me for a hundred bucks?” Note that even Hashimoto caved, if only for the peak-load summer doldrums. But the fear is genuine, the poll numbers are fairly evenly split on the Oi startup with few not having an opinion (as opposed to party preferences, where half or more now routinely say none of the above), and skewed significantly by gender (women are significantly more fearful). Give up the pro-nuclear vote to the DPJ and LDP and you still have half the electorate to fight over with the other mini-and micro-parties. Those are pretty good odds, if nuclear power were the only issue that mattered.
2. How are the main parties positioning themselves on this subject? (perhaps they’re divided?)
The DPJ by definition has positioned itself on the startup side. I’m not sure that the LDP has taken a vote on it, but I’m pretty sure that the institutional answer, if there were one, would be the same. Of course they’re divided—even the LDP has its Taro Kono constituency—but again, it’s not really an either-or issue; even Hashimoto consented to the Oi restarts. Of course everyone is playing the blame game around Fukushima and the broader handling of nuclear power leading up to in, as well as the post-Fukushima startup process. But most if that is really tactical.
3. What arguments are they using to weaken/attack the DPJ?
By “they” meaning? The LDP is attacking the disaster response, and the others are claiming that Noda is in big business’s pockets, no? What’s really striking is the fact that you have to ask, and I don’t have good answers. Specifically, the usual suspects—the SDP and the Communists—are not significant players. This is not an establishment vs. anti-establishment, progressive vs. conservative confrontation; it’s a post-partisan national question.
4. How is the DPJ trying to balance public concerns about nuclear safety vs. business interests?
The Noda administration has been playing it by ear, setting up processes and institutions that it hopes will enable a significant number of nuclear power plants to come back online over what I believe are the next couple of years. They’re going to let future administrations determine what to do with nuclear reactors that reach their 40th birthdays. I don’t think that they’ve given serious thought to the ones already under construction, nor are they willing to talk about them if they have.

C. Public consultation process on energy policy
1. How would you characterize this process from the point of view of democracy? (I personally suspect it’s a way of dodging the issue of a referendum, while giving the government’s final decision a veneer of democracy, but you might disagree)
The important thing to remember is that most people knew squat about nuclear power and energy in general before the process and will know squat after it. I know that, because I’m one of those people [who know squat*], and I probably send more time on energy issues than 95% of the Japanese population. (I’m counting babies, infants, and my 86 year old mom.) What the process really is about is the same as the climate change debate. The utilities and administrators have to lay out all the cards on the table, and let the experts—academics in disciplines that you didn’t know quite existed, scientist-activists, and, yes, EPCO engineers—hash it out in public, have the media cover the spectacle with their vari-tinted glasses and all, and let a fuzzy consensus emerge that marginalizes the obviously advocacy-only folks. And then, at some point, we put some things to a vote. Most of the time, we leave even that up to the people that we’ve chosen to pay to have them vote on our collective behalves. We’re no longer a small band of hunter-gathers looking for the next place to pitch camp. Informed consent is the last thing that we can afford. That said, the DPJ has not done a good job of managing the process. It’s a chronic feature of their makeup. I’ve suggested today in an email discussion that the DPJ change its name, just to change its luck, and I had three suggestions: Glossolalian Party (speaks in multiple tongues)
The Brownian Movement (for obvious reasons)
NOVA (as in kablooey)
2. Please explain the notion of 「国民の理解を得る」 (seek the understanding of the Japanese people)** in Japanese politics, taking as an example Noda’s decision to restart nuclear plants. (To some observers, including myself, it seems that the idea is often to present the government’s perspective before implementing the policy – in other terms, that the final decision is a foregone conclusion)
Good point. But it may be a case of close but no cigar. See the former 噂の真相 editor talk about efforts to relocate the Futenma helicopters:
“田中防衛大臣は「日米合意に従って、辺野古に基地をつくりたい。そのために、県民の理解を求めたい」(seek the understanding of the Okinawa people…to build the base at Henoko)**とバカの一つ覚えのセリフを棒読みするだけだった。これまで、何人の防衛担当者が沖縄を訪れたことか。皆、全く同じセリフを繰り返すだけだった。” So it’s not always a “foregone conclusion.” (Actually, this may be a misleading analogy. Discuss.)

D. Monday’s anti-nuclear rally
1. How would you characterize the scale/significance of this event in the context of contemporary Japanese history? Dunno. There’s no way to compare it with the Friday demonstrations because this one was held on a a national holiday with an environment-friendly narrative. I’d like to see the figures for previous years as well as the turnouts for Earth Days. And May Day turnouts too.***
2. What kind of impact is it likely to have on the political situation? (I read this morning that some DPJ members decided to leave the party because of their dissatisfaction over the nuclear issue)
The rally? None. But see answer to B.1.

* Words added for the blog just so there’s no misunderstanding between us. I only know enough about energy and more specifically electric power to ** Some translation added for the non-bilingual. *** Friday crowds upside of 20,000 at peak according to government estimates. Taken out of context, one could mistake 200,000-plus? Monday crowd for massive upsurge.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Brief Overview of Allegations of Prominent Politicians in Extramarital Relationships

Working on memory except for numbers—I have a poor memory overall but there are some areas where it functions quite well, thank you—I’ve come up with the following lists. The numbers are too low to say much with conclusiveness, but my impression is that the public is less forgiving when someone is having an affair with someone young enough to be his daughter. Otherwise, kind of meh. Oh, and mere allegations, however often repeated, do not seem to work. I haven’t read the Bunshun report itself, but the indications are that it was a case of mutual attraction, not pay-per-view. I see the hostess angle as a negative and the flight attendant cosplay neutral. I don’t see anything to make me alter my assessment that Hashimoto’s affair is of the speed bump variety, but maybe that’s just me.

Confirmed affairs
1. Sosuke Uno: 69(!)-day reign as prime minister began and ended in 1989 when the LDP suffered heavy losses in the triennial upper house election, largely the consequence of the public complaints filed by his geisha ex-lover over the amount of severance pay.
2. Taku Yamazaki: 2003 failure to win 11th straight term attributable at least in part to 10 year affair with club hostess that went wrong.
3. Yukio Hatoyama: Guilty of stealing wife of benefactor as a graduate student in management engineering at Stanford. His reign as prime minister was cut short, but for reasons unrelated to his youthful indiscretion.
4. Goshi Hosono: Guilty of being Focused married while canoodling with Mona Yamamoto, female announcer/tarento, turns out to be mere speed bump in high-flying career.
5. Ichiro Ozawa: Technically, he has not fessed up. On the other hand, he has not denied the authenticity of his ex-wife’s letter in which she reportedly details his infidelity including the existence of an extramarital offspring. It is hard to gauge the impact of the allegation because of a) the paucity of public support for his latest breakout move and b) the very low expectations that the public has, fairly or unfairly, for Ozawa as being anything other than a political cyborg.

Plausible but inconclusive rumors
1. Ryutaro Hashimoto: Persistent allegations of improper behavior with young Chinese assistant.
2. Naoto Kan: Allegations of joint sleepovers by newscaster in hotel suite reserved for party purposes. (Sleepover apparently true, though allegations of sexual congress circumstantial.)

Snap Reaction to the Prospective Nuclear Regulatory Council Lineup

Yomiuri, the establishment’s paper of record for hoisting “observation balloons,” appears to have scooped the prospective members of the Nuclear Regulatory Council, the independent institution that consolidates the regulatory powers formerly vested in METI, MEXI, and the Cabinet Secretariat. The lineup is about as appealing to the EPCOs as it could be, given the circumstances. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima from the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), but he’s also one of the establishment’s top go-to guys, a man for all seasons. There's a seismologist from the national umbrella prediction network organization. The others all appear to be part of the broader nuclear research and safety establishment.

Not surprising given the pro-business complexion of the NODA administration. The appointments require the consent of both houses of the Diet, and the candidates do not look like people that the LDP and Komeito are likely to veto in the upper house. The only danger is that the two parties stall, or even demand a scalp or two, just because they had to see it in the media first. (It has happened before.) Otherwise, it happened more quickly than I had been inclined to believe, as my answers to a questionnaire (embargoed for this blog until tomorrow) will show.

In sum, barring the worst of what will likely a hitch, a swift startup of an NRC that is about as good as the EPCOs could expect is now the expected outcome. Time to stop shorting public utilities? Yes, but don’t bet the house in the other direction. And the odds on my bet that there will be five nuclear reactors up and running by the year’s end have improved somewhat.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Culture Crap, and the NAIIC Report Tangentially

On July 5, 2012, the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) issued its report and so-called “executive” summaries in both Japanese and English. The documents can be downloaded here (Japanese page) or here (English page). Given the logistics of producing all three documents for simultaneous release, it was inevitable that the two summaries would have to be produced by two different teams simultaneously. The pages now carry the following disclaimer (English version), no doubt effective “retroactively.”

“If there are any discrepancies or differences between the Japanese-language version and this Global edition, the Japanese-language version shall prevail.” br>
What really caught the attention of the Japan-watching crowd, though, was this article in the Guardian by Justin McCurry that quoted Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the NAIIC Chairman venting:

“What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity. “Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.”

My take on this in the SSJ Forum was twofold:

1) Dr. Kurokawa’s evocation of “Japanese culture” was silly though understandable, and trivial since it was not part of the main text of the report.. 2) “Japanese culture” is at best amusing as a way to explain institutional behavior.

I thought that I gave an adequate explanation of 1) and that 2) was self-evident. The flurry of commentary on 2) showed that I was wrong, though it did prove my point when it emerged that there was no consensus on what “culture” meant, much less on how “Japanese culture” was connected to individual outcomes. Mike Smitka rarely posts, but usually makes sense when he does, and this was no exception. That must have something to do with his engineering background. The humanities generally allow Grand Assumptions to be connected to Grand Conclusions with unfalsifiable rhetoric—I like to think that I’ve become quite good at spotting those rhetorical tricks in recent years—but Smitka’s technical upbringing most likely forces him to look for the gears, pulleys, belts, and levers that work together to make sure that the whole contraption actually works.

It’s good forum all in all. You should subscribe if you haven’t been doing so already. And you can track the arguments, including the one that I referred to, in the archives.

So Hashimoto Had a Flight Attendant Fetish? Hikaru Genji Remains the Gold Standard

The latest installment of Shukan Bunshun’s so-far futile campaign (unless the real objective is to shore up the chronically sagging readership) to take down now Mayor Toru Hashimoto is a tell-all feature by a night club hostess who had a fling with Hashimoto while he was still a TV lawyer tarento making mega-JPY off his outspoken, often outrageous commentary. Hashimoto is a public figure who has had more than his share of potential loss of face, some of it quite substantive, most prominently his last-minute back-off from his opposition to the restart of Units No.3 and 4 at the Oi Nuclear Power Station. As usual, he made a clean, unequivocal show of contriteness; the impact on his poll numbers should as usual be statistically insignificant.

I’ve speculated elsewhere about the reasons for Hashimoto’s apparent immunity to embarrassments, and I’ll repeat them here one of these days. But suffice to say, short of being caught in the futon with the proverbial dead girl or live boy—perhaps dead boy these days—a sex scandal will be a minor setback at most to political fortunes. I mean, just look at the DPJ’s founding fathers. There’s Yukio Hatoyama, who stole his benefactor’s wife, Naoto Kan’s slumber party with a newscaster, and Ichiro Ozawa’s ex-wife’s letter detailing among other things his extramarital issue. Speaking of whom, the acorns have not fallen far from the tree, as two Ozawa Girls, the Tiger Huntress-turned-Hit Me Princess and Ms. Nooner and their high school teacher and MLIT fast-track official beaus, respectively, have also enjoyed their 15 minutes of tabloid infamy. (And I haven’t even mentioned Goshi Hosono, the dark horse candidate to replace Prime Minister Noda, if it comes to that.)

Some gaijin have wondered why the mainstream media in Japan are giving these guys a pass. (And believe me, Hashimoto’s escapades are not going to grace the national pages of, say, the Asahi unless it turns out that the hostess was underage—it would also have been more damaging if she had been wearing a schoolgirl’s outfit.) Part of that, in my view, is that the MSM enjoy certain legal privileges and feel a corresponding need to maintain a sense of decorum, particularly when it comes to the escapades of the very people who could legislate those privileges away. But the other part of it, surely, must be that the Japanese public just doesn’t think that it’s that big a deal. After all, more than a thousand years ago, Murasaki Shikibu wrapped her all-time bestseller Genji Monogatari around Hikaru Genji’s tryst with his stepmother, the beloved consort of his dad the emperor. And Murasaki Shikibu’s day job when she wrote the steamy potboiler? Top assistant to the incumbent emperor’s consort.

We Japanese really set the bar high with that one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People’s Life First, Capeesh? Okay, Go Do Your Thang Now

Sticking with the notion of crime and punishment, did you notice that Ozawa’s fourth baby, christened the People’s Life First (our survival second?) Party by the venerable German scholar Dr. Axel Klein, is explicitly allowing its Diet members to vote their conscience? Specifically, there will be no binding party-line votes. That’s not all; four DPJ parliamentarians in the House of Councillors (HOCs), all first-term members whose six-year terms expire in 2013, are in the process of defecting from the DPJ and caucusing with a HOC defector from the very junior coalition partner PNP. And they too, will forego binding party-line votes.

Very well, they represent their constituents; not their party leaders. The Americans do it; why can’t they? I get it. One big catch, though. Let’s say that Ozawa isn’t doing the last-ditch, Saigo Takamori/Last Samurai thing and is actually serious about forming a coalition. What’s he going to say to prospective coalition partners, “Oh, and by the way, if my guys vote against what we just agreed on, tough sh!t, okay?”

Who is he kidding?

Would a General Council Have Kept VAT Deniers in Line?

I’ve been taking part in an email discussion, where one party is asserting that it would have helped the DPJ to have an institution like the LDP Somukai, or General Council, as a clear decision-making institution providing results binding on all its members. Interesting point, and rules certainly matter. But…

1. The DPJ leadership thinks that it does have a process that produces binding decisions, and its members, including former Prime Minister Yukio, seem to agree. Otherwise, the leadership could not have imposed sanctions and the lower house dissidents would not have accepted them. 2. The problem was not the lack of a formal process to make binding decisions but the perceived need for a parallel process aimed at easing opposition (if sometimes only by allowing the restless rank-and-file to let off steam) that appeared to shift with the frequent changes in the party leadership and their ripple effects throughout the political appointments and party assignments. Note that the presence of a 25-member General Council would have done little to stave off a rebellion led by two powerful party powers. That was the case in 2005, when Shizuka Kamei and Takeo Hiranuma led the charge against Japan Post privatization, and the same in 2012, when Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama voted against the VAT-social safety net bills.

Frankly, I feel a little sorry for the DPJ rank-and-file. They’ve endured one shadow shogun and three prime ministers, most of them saddled with obvious, massive flaws, laboring under a manifesto filled with improbably promises. Then 3.11 happened. The formal rules and procedures were the least of the problem.

The Frilliness of It All: or, How Underwear Always Rises to the Top

You may be one of those people who take a look at the latest in Japanese fashion, you know, the flimsy summer-wear kind, with those lacey trimmings, and can’t help saying to themselves—hopefully not out loud—“That’s %&’’(#*?`&’%$ lingerie for God’s sake!” Believe me, my friend; I, too, know how tough it is when your well-honed appreciation of decorum is violated by the latest summer travesty against human decency. Despair not, though, because you’ll get over it. Say, in a couple of centuries, give or take a few?

You see, the casual kosode, the Eve of all contemporary kimonos, began life as underwear. And the even more humble yukata……wait, that’s so wrong—there, that’s better—gets its name from its origins as a single-layer piece that you wore during and/or after taking a bath. Yes, it was essentially a wearable towel. (So now you know the reason why you aren’t supposed to wear any underwear beneath your yukata. No, it isn’t what you were thinking.)

This urge to upgrade underwear must run deep in the Japanese psyche; I’m old enough to remember when it was not unusual to see the womenfolk of the urban working class lounging in their homes or even walking around the neighborhood in their chemise. No wonder then, that those frilly bits are now coming to you in the summer fashion landscape.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even More Briefly, Test Tube Babies Courtesy of Thailand

One more bite out of the mainstream media.

The front page headline on the Monday hardcopy Yomiuri reads: 90 Couples [Choose] Thai Sex-Choice Birth. Two days without natural catastrophes, political scandals, multiple murders and the like ain’t nuthin’ to sneer at. But what really caught my attention was this:

“According to [Thai?] intermediary businesses…as for the Japanese [couples], more than 90% want girls, and in most cases already have multiple male children.”

It goes on to say that Indians and Chinese are also seeking treatment. Why do I think that their gender preferences go in the opposite direction? I’ve always believed that the Japanese people are at their roots deeply matriarchal, a societal feature that is often obscured by the formal Sinic power structure that has been successively overlaid on top throughout its written history. This piece reinforces my conviction.

Has anyone looked into the sudden 7.5% year-on-year dip in the suicide rate in January-June? Not quite as surprising as the leap it took in 1998, but ultimately, unexplainable except in reductive terms, I’m sure.

Very Briefly, on Polls, and Unsolicited Advice for Fellow High School Alumnus

Several media polls have been coming out over the weekend. Support for the LDP? 16.4% (sankei) and 14% (Yomiuri). The DPJ received 13.0% (Sankei)and 15% (Yomiuri). The only bright spot for the two parties running neck and neck—or crawling butt and butt if you prefer—is that the rest of the gang, including Ozawa’s spanking new People’s Life First Party, are mired in 1-3% microparty purgatory. (Komeito, as usual, underpolls, but its upside has a definite ceiling upside.) All that meant, however, that “none of the above” reached a whopping 57% (and another 3% not giving an answer).

Two words: Toru Hashimoto. It only takes one view, front-to-end, of one of his U-Stream press conferences to understand his grip on the reporters covering him. Takashi Kawamura doesn’t really count; he’s a mediocre political talent that parlayed his flamboyant late-night, Sunday-morning TV appearances into a second life as Nagoya mayor, but his national aspirations have been their own limitation: naked ambition getting in the way of building up street cred in his day job. (His uneasy on-again, off-again alliance with the Aichi governor, who also has national aspirations, doesn’t help burnish his reputation either.) Governor Shintaro Ishihara continues to get significant press attention, but let’s put it this way: A bunch of septuagenarian might-have-beens trying to congregate around one of their own and their desire to whip the lazy, China-loving masses into shape isn’t going to attract a meaningful number of capable, well-heeled candidates when there are semi-credible alternatives.

This brings me back to Hashimoto. If the polls are to be believed, almost two-thirds of the Japanese electorate turns its lonely eyes to… except there is nothing to turn to, just yet, because there is no national party here for the national polls to list. That’s the catch. Hashimoto has several good reasons not to enter the fray just now, and one of those reasons is that he has no national movement to match his national following. He just got his political school going over the summer, presumably as a no-expensed-paid, nationwide search for political talent reminiscent of the scouting caravans and contests that have brought you most of Japanese pop circulating in East Asia and beyond. And speaking of expenses, he has made it clear that any candidate running under the Ishin banner will have to pay his/her own way. This means that if he wants to field a meaningful slate of candidates in an early snap election, he will have to rely on a motley crew of well-heeled amateurs, do-gooders running shoestring campaigns, or well-entrenched local powers looking to step up to the national stage. True, that’s where all political movements begin, but the risks of mishaps and their consequences are magnified when you don’t have a core group of Diet members to give the gathering some leadership and stability. Moreover, on the demand side, all the political players from the DPJ and LDP to Your Party and Ishihara’s gathering are making goo-goo eyes at Hashimoto out of fear that he will blow any party out of the election waters that is not to his liking. Once he starts fielding a meaningful number of candidates of his own, that will change, particularly if he decides to challenge SMD incumbents. In the meantime, though, his potential competitors are happy to endorse his Osaka revolution, which will earn him more political brownie points down the line.

I think by now you’ve guessed where I’m going with this. Yes, I believe that Hashimoto should sit out the snap election, endorsing none of the players and agreeing to disagree on specific issues. Instead, he should look to the 2013 upper house election, where his national appeal will lead to a good showing in the national proportional voting, good for 48 of the 121 seats up for grabs* in that election, generating a reasonable expectations that this will lead to a decent showing in the remaining 73 SMDs. Can the DPJ and LDP avoid all this and bet the house in a 2013 double election? Well, yes, but postponement requires cohabitation of one kind or another—the DPJ and the LDP are the only two parties that can must a joint upper house majority—with which the media and the public, if you believe the polls, will be deeply disappointed. Besides, the coattail effect from a national campaign should have some value in the lower house as well in the case of an unlikely double election. And Hashimoto and his candidates will be better prepared to conduct a national campaign. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, but I think that the DPJ and LDP will wind up picking the least of the many evils and come up with a snap election, most likely after their respective leadership elections.

Finally, there’s some thought given to the notion that Hashimoto’s popularity might wane with the passing of time. As Kevin Garnett said, anything is possible, but even moderately mayors and governors have remarkable staying power, extremely hard to dislodge unless there is a compelling local issue requiring unpopular decisions—like an unwanted garbage dump in the making—or criminal behavior—taking bribes, molesting a campaign volunteer, and so on—in the works. Hashimoto may be controversial, but so far has been able to stay on the good side of public opinion in Osaka. In short, the chances of a waiting game turning up the right political cards are slim, while the downside is pretty obvious.

So that’s my call, or bunch of calls. We’ll know if they’re any good in a few months. Back to work now.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Radio GaGa

Too much work spilling over to the weekend, plus I need my weekly Wushu serial fix at 11 tonight. But you might want to keep an ear on Today at China Radio International, next Monday (July 9), 10:00AM JST. In the meantime, have a nice weekend.

Just sayin’.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Much Ado about Almost Nothing: or, So Much for DPJ Sanctions

The latest news from Yomiuri has Azuma Koshiishi stating in today’s regular press briefing that “it is impossible that [ex-Prime Minister Hatoyama] will not be an official candidate” if the lower house election occurs during his suspension period. There is a semantic discrepancy between this and his earlier statement just two days ago that one “cannot be an official candidate during the suspension period” that can be bridged only through the fourth dimension by assuming that Hatoyama (and all the other suspended lower house members for that matter) will be pardoned if and when the Noda cabinet calls a snap election within the next six months. In the meantime, Hatoyama et al will be allowed to attend DPJ meetings as “observers.” So the camel(s) will be peeing in the tent and all the while, everyone else pretends not to see it. All this is no doubt motivated by the very real fear that dissidents will pick up their marbles and walk out.

Verily, the political theatrics have been transformed in an instant from suspense to farce. Could Shakespeare have done any better?

So I guess my question is, or would be if I were Ozawa and his diehard allies, “Did I act too hastily in exiting the premises?”

A Snap Election Is Certainly Doable in the Very Near Term

Philippe wonders in his comment to my previous post:

“Can a snap election actually be held that fast, given the constitutionality issues raised by the Supreme Court ? As far as I know, the relevant laws are still being held up (by the LDP and ... ?) in the lower house committees or intra party negotiations. Or will the LDP suddenly agree to the current proposals and help passing the laws at high speed through both chambers?”

That is a good question; a question which the media, apparently in their desire to sell an election, have mostly elided over. I believe that once the main political parties—the DPJ, LDP, Komeito and the Ozawa defectors—see that a snap election is inevitable, they will quickly pass a law that complies with the Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of lower house elections by eliminating five single-member districts—resulting in 475 seats consisting of 295 single-member-district and 180 proportional regional-district seats— while leaving the more drastic reforms for further negotiations after the snap election.

Could the Noda cabinet call a snap election without such legislation? Yes. No reputable constitutional scholar is likely to argue that the Emperor could place his legal judgment ahead of the cabinet and refuse to dissolve the lower house under Article 7 of the Constitution of Japan, a legal and political intervention that even a constitutional monarch would blanche at. More importantly, the Supreme Court will not vacate a general election that would leave us with a lower house devoid of members and an unconstitutional prime minister and cabinet and no constitutional means to repair this state of affairs. The Supreme Court will not endorse the election after the event, but it will declare it valid though unconstitutional. Now it is possible that citizen groups may sue to secure a provisional disposition postponing the election. I won’t say that there is zero possibility that the Supreme Court will grant such relief, but I do believe that it is extremely unlikely since the courts are not equipped to intervene with a constructive remedy that overwrites existing law in the case the Diet cannot come forward with its own resolution. (Imagine what the situation would be like if the issue remains unresolved until the current term is up.) The Noda cabinet will, however, be very reluctant to go this route. The wrath of the media and the public will fall largely on the Diet, but the Noda cabinet will also have to shoulder a significant part of the blame. Noda, moreover, will not want to go down in history for knowingly calling an unconstitutional election and undermining the legitimacy of the Japanese political system.

The Diet members are strong incented to table the other two elements, perhaps indefinitely. First, eliminating 40/80 lower house seats from the proportional regional districts may be a politically appealing act when advocating belt-tightening. But that means cracking a lot of eggs, and the eggs are not amused. Second, there is a strong institutional bias for consensus on parliamentary matters, but it is proving difficult to come up with a formula that satisfies/dissatisfies all the political parties. The DPJ has made a proposal that goes halfway in meeting the concerns of the smaller parties—the DPJ and LDP will be the ones giving up all the seats and perhaps more—and is believed to be aimed in particular at Komeito as a potential coalition partner. The post-election prospects for the two elements depend on the outcome of the election. It is easy to see that a grand coalition between the DPJ and LDP renders that an arrangement that favors large parties more likely, while a more fragmented political scene where the two compete for the support of the smaller parties to form a government favors the opposite arrangement. And of course, continued stalemate is always possible, which would mean that we would be due for another round of debates resulting in a minor patch after the next census in 2020.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Implications of the Two-Month Suspensions

Of the 19 lower house members who voted against the bill to raise the consumption tax* rate but elected to remain in the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama received a six-month suspension reportedly because he was a former prime minister and leader of the DPJ while the other 18 each received a two-month suspension. So?

Assume that clock started running on the suspensions yesterday, when they held the DPJ leadership meeting to authenticate the decision that Yoshihiko Noda as DPJ Representative and Azuma Koshiishi as Secretary-General made, and Hatoyama’s suspension will be lifted on January 4 while the two-month suspensions will be lifted on September 4. Now, Noda is serving out the remainder of Naoto Kan’s two-year term as DPJ Representative, which ends on September 14. This means that the naysayers can vote against Noda in the DPJ Representative election. However, this means little; the ranks of the anti-tax hike have been greatly diminished by the Ozawa defections, while Noda already won a faceoff last September against the Ozawa candidate (remember Banri Kaieda?) on a pro-consumption tax hike agenda.

More important is the schedule for a snap election. SG Koshiishi has indicated that Diet members under suspension will not be designated as official DPJ candidates. According to the Japanese Constitution, a general election must be called within 40 days after the lower house is dissolved, so any suspended lower house member could be reinstated and designated as an official DPJ candidate by September 4 if the lower house is dissolve no later than August 29 (or 28, whatever; there are only so many minutes in the day and I’m not being paid for this). As a practical matter, though, the DPJ needs to designate its official candidates immediately or very soon after the lower house is dissolved so that it can put the full force of its resources behind its incumbents in what is sure to be an unpredictable, hard-fought and, for the DPJ, uphill election campaign. Therefore, Prime Minister Noda must wait until on or about September 4 before he rolls the dice on a snap election. Since the current Diet session runs until Setember 8, he must effectively hold out until its end.

There are three tools to consider in gauging the prospects for the opposition of forcing a snap election. The most potent is a lower house vote of non-confidence, which, under the Japanese Constitution, would force Noda to resign or call a snap election. The second is the para-constitutional upper house vote of censure, which is to the lower house vote of no confidence what porn is to real sex; it’s potency depends in large part on how desperately the media want a snap election—very badly in my view (snap election, not sex). And the third is rejection of a must-have bill, an act that requires a majority vote in the lower house or a majority in the upper house that cannot be overridden by a lower house super majority. The DPJ-PNP coalition maintained a safe majority even after the Ozawa defections. Momentum for an effective upper house censure motion needs a little time to build up. This leaves the rejection of a must-have bill as the most viable option for the opposition to force an early snap election (which I believe that they still want) since it has the necessary votes in the two Diet houses (and the eventual media support) to force it.

What does all this mean in terms of political tactics? The PDJ should take as much time as possible in moving the deficit bond authorization bill through the two houses, while the opposition should clear the legislative deck as quickly as possible so that it can submit the no-confidence motion that the media crave. Look, then, to the opposition to try to run the consumption tax and other related bills double-time through the lower house** while the DPJ becomes embarrassingly forthright in submitting the Noda administration to opposition grilling around the bill in the upper house; a turnaround, if I recall correctly, from the lower house process.

BTW Hatoyama really got shafted if there’s going to be a snap election earlier rather than later. The LDP the LDP will be putting up a former world-class speed skater (winter sports heroes are big in Hokkaido) and two-term prefectural assemblyman against Hatoyama, with Seiko Hashimoto, a much bigger speed skating national hero and three-term HOC and Hokkaido Chapter head for the LDP, spearheading the charge for him. I'd be running scared if I were Hatoyama. Looking at the results of past elections, he'll probably make it back, but I'd say that there's an undeniable opportunity for the LDP to knock him off with a strong candidate, in which case not being zombie-listed would be fatal.

(Note) * I’m tempted to call it VAT so people don’t mistake it for a sales tax. I complained because one news outlet whose name I shall not give you here because I do not bite the hand that feeds me (though it will be easy to figure out for people with elementary online search skills who can take a hint) used the term “sales tax” and got the explanation that it would be easier to understand.
** I’m still convinced that the LDP and Komeito want to go to the polls sooner rather than later despite any qualms over Toru Hatoyama and his Ishin-no-Kai’s potential. I may use some material from my end of an email exchange with friends to blog about this tomorrow if someone doesn’t dump a serious workload on me on top of a few other ongoing projects that I’m involved in.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A first-term “non-zombie DPJ HOR”—someone who got listed for one reason or another on the DPJ’s regional proportional list for the House of Representatives election in 2009 and made it in on the coattails of the dump-the-LDP landslide in 2009—on the list of 38 HORs that voted against the consumption tax hike bill on June 29 and let their names remain on the secession list on July 2, chickened out today (July 3) and rescinded his secession, a decision that the DPJ apparently welcomed with open arms (and a likely suspension). Tomohiko Mizuno, the repentant HOR, is a graduate from a dentist’s college that I’d never heard of before and his pre-HOR political career consists of one unsuccessful run for a prefectural assembly seat in 2007 when he was in his late forties, which suggests a character in need of serious handholding and caresses before you push him out the back of the plane for his first parachute dive. And Chobin Zukeran, a SMD member from Okinawa—another caution flag—has told the press, since it asked, that he will play the independent game for the time being.

All in all, it has been a horrible rollout for Ozawa. But what can he expect when the one guy that you have left who will do everything he can expect to do his bidding is the clownish, blustering Kenji Yamaoka?

In his defense, it probably was not just pure stupidity that led him to orchestrate the bum rush that he gave to the men and women who had entrusted their secession papers to Ozawa. No. He must have done that in large part because he knew that many of them would get cold feet if they had more than a moment to reflect on what they were doing. In short, he were doing what every cold-call salesmean, teleshopping hawkers and or other con mean does to make the mark commit before he/she hads a chance to think. In that’s sense, Yamaoka did take a page from the manuals of his erstwhile multilayered marketing patrons.

And maybe Ozawa is a “spent force” after all.

Rapid Reaction: The Ozawa Defection

Ozawa is a spent force, although he can still play a spoiler role in the Diet, complicating legislative affairs until at least the 2013 upper house (HOC) election. Look at how his lower house (HOR) support slipped as the going got tougher over the past week. On June 21, 49 HOR members of the Ozawa Group showed up at his soiree for hardcore opponents of the consumption tax hike. The same day, 45 HOR members, almost surely consisting of the soiree attendants, entrusted their party secession papers to Ozawa. On June 26, 57 HOR members from the DPJ voted against the tax-and-social security reform bill that includes provisions for the consumption tax hike. 46 of them had attended the June 21 soiree. On July 2, Kenji Yamaoka, Ozawa’s majordomo submitted to the DPJ the secession papers of 40 HOR and 12 HOC members. Two of the 40 HOR members denied that they had intended to secede, claiming that they had not been consulted before the submission. One other HOR member reportedly complained as well but was persuaded by Ozawa to stay the course on defection. There are some rumors that Ozawa sympathizers lie in waiting in the DPJ for just the right moment to defect and destabilize the Noda administration. But it is doubtful that such a clandestine undertaking can be conducted in absolute secrecy. Besides, these things are now or never; if you lose your nerve the first time around, it’ll be difficult to get yourself up for another try. It look like Ozawa’s allies backed bit by bit as the going got harder. Ozawa is surely stuck, give or take less than a handful, with what he has now*. In short, Ozawa underwhelmed; that’s bad optics. There will be a significant anti-consumption tax backlash at the polls come the snap election. But Ozawa’s candidates will have to share it with the policy-minded Your Party, whatever Hashimoto cooks up under the Ishin banner, and the relics of the Japanese left-wing. In fact, if I were a first-term HOR member who opposed the consumption tax hike bill, I’d try to run under the aegis of Your Party, or something that Toru Hashimoto, the charismatic Osaka mayor, cooks up under the Ishin banner. Seriously, I Can’t figure out a way for Ozawa to do anything more than to hang on to the troops that he still has until election day, when his party winds up lumped together with all the other small parties with just enough political capital to survive but not nearly enough to grow, It’s difficult to foresee the political HOR configuration of the post-eleciton regime. But the HOC picture is much clearer. Given the 12 defections, the legislative process will become much less flexible, making it much more difficult to do anything there without an agreement between the DPJ and LDP.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Farmland and Taxes (and a Little Bit of Death)

From today’s Outbox. Only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

French Intern J: Did Mr. K really say that “taxing farm zoned land out of existence in the suburbs of urban areas will somehow correct the fiscal imbalance and be a net benefit to Japan's economy”?

Tooth Fairy: Of course not. What he said, or intended to say, or would have said had he listened more carefully to the MOF officials that he talked to was something like this: “Farm zoned land should be taxed at market value like any other commercial real estate. That would raise fixed assets tax revenue for municipalities in urban areas and improve resource allocation. It won’t correct the fiscal imbalance by itself but it’ll help.”

French Intern J: That sounds sensible. Why don’t they do it? After all, there can’t be that many farmers in Metropolitan Tokyo to resist a change in the tax code, no?

Tooth Fairy: It’s more complicated than that. Farmland is governed by the Agricultural Land Act and requires the consent of the local Agricultural Commission and the prefectural governor to be converted to non-farmland. Some of the commissioners are nominated by the local agricultural cooperatives while others are elected by local farmers. The result is an opaque, time-consuming, and often politicized process. You have to flip this entire framework on its back if you are going to start taxing farmland like commercial real estate. The vested interests encrusted around the existing system may not be that large in number, but they’ll fight fiercely to defend their turfs, with a so-far predictable outcome. (You‘ve heard of Mancur Olsen?) If you want to know more, ask Aurelia George Mulgan. Or read her book; Dr. P has a copy. It’s about the size of two bricks and weighs about as much.

French Intern J: Are the taxes so low that the urban and suburban farmers aren’t incented to lobby the national government to change the law so that they can sell their land to real estate developers and make a fortune?

Tooth Fairy: Good question. But beyond the tax incentive that Mr. K talked about, inheritance law offers a huge incentive to the heir(s) to maintain inherited farmland as such until a deal comes along that makes it worthwhile to convert it to residential or commercial use. You have to change that too. Then there are people, including farmers, who’ll see the value of their commercial and residential real estate fall as ex-farmland floods the market. And I haven’t even talked about the externalities, including GHGs.

French Intern J: And you also said that the existing procedures are time-consuming.

Tooth Fairy: Which is why there are many cases reportedly of people just skipping procedures and going ahead and do it. The authorities will not come after minor infractions, and will often legitimize the fait accompli.

French Intern J: It sure is complicated. So Mr. K had all this in mind when he talked about taxes on farmland?

Tooth Fairy: I’m not so sure. You see, Mr. K can’t speak, much less read, Japanese. That means that, for things that English-language information is not available, he is at the mercy of his Japanese interlocutors who speak Japanese. But I don’t fault him for that. In my line of business, I am asked questions that should properly be beyond my ken, and I will be the first to admit that I have winged it, or even dissembled, when I thought that I could get away with it. It comes with the territory, and even academics also do it all the time when they face the TV camera or an op-ed deadline. So now you know where the veal comes from, so to speak. But you do ask good questions. Dr. P should give you a raise.

French Intern J: Mais je n'ai pas encore été payees!

Tooth Fairy: That’s Greek to me.

French Intern J: Actually, it’s French.

Tooth Fairy: Same thing.

French Intern J: I said, I haven’t been paid yet. So, can you do something about that?

Tooth Fairy: Sorry, no can do; I’m the Tooth Fairy, not a debt collector. And I only take baby teeth. Tell you what, I’ll contact Santa Claus; he might be able to help you in…oh, in another six months or so.

French Intern J: Thanks for nothing.

Tooth Fairy: *kids today*