The next Prime Minster? or, crazy rightwingers say the darndest things

For those who haven’t been keeping track of Japanese politics, a brief introduction courtesy of online Bloomberg news.

Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appointed Shinzo Abe, Taro Aso and Sadakazu Tanigaki as members of his final cabinet. All three are considered favorites to succeed him when he steps down in September.

``It is essentially a three-man race’’ to see who can replace Koizumi next year, said Noriko Hama, professor of economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto and former chief economist at Mitsubishi Research Institute. ``The posts they’ve been given do harbor risks so any mistakes could be damaging. They will certainly jostle and compete with each other.’’

Earlier today, Curzon emailed us a link to this brief news item on Yahoo Japan reporting a statement that Aso made on the 17th of October, at the opening of the Kysushu National Museum

Japan is one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, one race, none of which can be found in any other country.

This could be a surprise to the Ainu, Okinawans, Zainich Korean and Chinese minorities, and the hundreds of thousands of other foreigners legally residing in Japan, as well as the Japanese communities overseas. Come on, we have a Ninja restaurant in New York now, what more counter evidence do you need?

A couple of Aso’s other greatest hits, as translated from the Japanese Wikipedia entry by Adam:

  • Claimed Koreans wished to change their names to Japanese names during colonial rule (an attempt to justify the Aso Zaibatsu’s colonial-era actions). Also claimed Japan helped spread the use of Hangul writing.
  • When inaugurated as MIC Minister in 2003, made the bold prediction that office paperwork would disappear with the development of information technology and that everything would be done by magical new floppy disks in the future.

If only being this much of an idiot would disqualify him as a candidate for the Prime Ministership.

Conspiracy theory time! Albright and Kim

Lord Curzon’s post at Coming Anarchy about Hu Jintao’s trip to North Korea reminded me of this shenanigan:

Is is just me, or is there WAY too much resemblance between the two of them? I submit that it can be explained by any of the following theories:

  • Kim and Albright are alien beings, sent to our planet by an extraterrestrial race with an eye for messing with geopolitics.
  • Albright is a clone created by North Korea’s secret genetic engineering laboratories to infiltrate the Clinton administration and make it unwilling to go after rogue states.
  • Albright and Kim are both descended from an unspeakably evil overlord, who may or may not also be responsible for Alan Greenspan.

On a more serious note, living in Philadelphia makes me really hate organized labor. If the President can break up airline strikes, why the hell can’t he break up mass transit strikes, which wreak so much more havoc on people’s lives? I mean, if Bush stepped in and forced the transit workers to go back to work, Philadelphia would go red in 2008, no further questions asked.

Separating shrine and state: why you shouldn’t expect a court to stop the Yasukuni visits

Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan says that “freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority… The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.” Article 89 further states that “no public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority.”

Like the First Amendment in the United States, these rules are just full of fun! If you think about it, they could make the Emperor illegal. (I don’t actually agree with this notion; it’s just one interpretation that could be drawn.) But they won’t make the Emperor illegal, nor will they make Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine illegal… and even if the visits could be considered illegal, the courts aren’t going to stop them! More detailed explanation after the jump.
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma

Every day it’s some other city/state/country/faction/nominee being destroyed. It figures that Broward County, where I grew up and lived through a hurricane and a tropical storm, was smacked silly by Hurricane Wilma.

One of my friends from high school sent over some photos from our neighborhood by the beach. You can see the crazier shots here.

Addendum: I just read that a geisha is overseeing the restoration of power. This post was Japan-related all along! Who knew?

When too much language is not enough

One of my best friends from college is now working as a pharmacist in Florida (a hell of a job to end up with after so much time in school). She’s Japanese. When I met her, she didn’t speak much English at all; now that she has a difficult graduate degree under her belt, she knows a bit too much. She recently told me about one situation where she politely asked a patient about the “efficacy” of his medication. The patient had no clue what she was talking about. After a minute of miscommunication, someone else behind the counter suggested that she say “Does it work?” instead.

The story reminded me of one experience I had in high school in Osaka. I had an earache one day, and went to the local ENT clinic to have it checked. The doctor, a wizened-looking old lady, peered inside and told me, in English, “You have timpanitis.” “Timpanitis?” I asked. That certainly wasn’t in my vocabulary at the time. She repeated the word a few times until I eventually figured out it must be a fancy way to say “ear infection.”

There were many occasions when someone would ask me about a certain phrase in English, and I wanted to explain that the phrase was a metaphor for something else. In most dictionaries, the Japanese gloss of “metaphor” is in’yu. While I memorized that word, I never met a single Japanese person who understood what it meant, even when I wrote it out; after a few failed attempts to communicate, someone suggested that I use chokuyu (“figure of speech”) instead. That one actually works.

Anyway, knowing too much of a language can often have the same effect as knowing not enough. I suppose the moral, especially for those of us working in wordy fields like law and medicine, is to keep things as simplified as possible. Imagine how much easier things would be if we all followed that rule…

Afterthought: “Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched, for starting as devices to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it.” – Benjamin Cardozo, former Supreme Court justice (apparently lacking a sense of irony…)

The CCP explains bird flu

Avian flu continues to spread from its home in the chicken shacks of Guangdong province across the globe, almost as if it were some sort of highly infectious disease or something. Luckily, the Chinese Communist Party has been on the case for over a year and a half now. These are two photographs I took on March 4, 2004 of signs posted in the Beijing train station explaining the dangers of bird flu, and how to prevent it from spreading. I’m especially touched by the little teardrop in the chicken’s eye.

On a related note, the Washington Post has the following headline on their front page as I write this: Bird Flu Drug Shipments Suspended in U.S. While the article (from the AP) itself has the more straightforward headline of Roche Suspends Tamiflu Shipments to U.S., it does contain the line “Tamiflu, the only drug shown to be effective in treating bird flu.” Funny they should say that, since the reports I’ve been reading seem to indicate that Tamiflu isn’t actually much help.

According to The Times (the British one)

The Government’s strategy of stockpiling antiviral drugs was dealt a blow yesterday, however, when a study revealed that Tamiflu, the drug they were stocking, could be ineffective.

There was panic-buying of antiviral drugs on the internet, but the Department of Health said yesterday that many of them could be dangerous fakes.

According to the Harvard Vanguard Medical Association:

Should I stock up on antiviral medications, flu drugs, like Tamiflu?
No. There are a few reasons why having Tamiflu available in your home is not a good idea.

  • It’s not clear whether Tamiflu is effective against the current strain of the avian flu. In addition, flu viruses are constantly changing so that if there is ever an outbreak of bird flu in the US, Tamiflu may not be effective against that strain.
  • Taking an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu if not necessary may cause the virus to develop resistance to the medication. In that case, Tamiflu may become ineffective against bird flu and against the ordinary flu when needed most, during an outbreak.
  • Stocking up on Tamiflu ‘just in case’ may create a situation where those who truly need it may not be able to get it.
  • If you store Tamiflu at home for an extended period, it may expire before you use it.
  • You won’t know when you need Tamiflu. Many different viruses cause flu-like illnesses, and without testing no one can know if an illness is flu, or whether it’s bird flu or regular flu. Tamiflu should only be taken if a physician has diagnosed your illness.
  • Taking unnecessary medications increases your risk of possible side effects and allergic reactions.
  • Tamiflu is not a vaccine; it can’t protect you against flu in the future if you take it now. It is only effective while you are taking it.
  • Most importantly, we don’t know if there will ever be an outbreak of avian flu in the U.S.

And according to this article on the website Recombinomics dating all the way back to February, there was never any real evidence that Tamiflu was effective against the disease.

Although Tamiflu has been used to treat H5N1 patients, the number treated has been low, and many were treated after the recommended time period, which is within 48 hours of symptoms. For the latest H5N1 patients in southern Vietnam, there were no reported discharges, so all died regardless of when they started taking Tamiflu.
[...]
Tamiflu was used in vivo in an effort to save tigers at a Thailand zoo. The zoo housed 441 tigers and some were fed H5N1 infected chickens. Initially only 3 or 4 tigers showed symptoms, but the number increased each day. Those that had not been fed chickens were segregated away from those fed infected chickens. Several days after the initial deaths more tigers became ill. The tigers were treated with Tamiflu, but eventually 45 tigers died and 102 were euthanized for humanitarian reasons. Thus, in spite of Tamiflu treatment, 33% of the entire population died, but this could have been close to 100% of the infected population.

I’m not really qualified to judge the content of an unknown site about infectious disease, but it does seem to match with what I’ve been reading in general newspapers.

Isn’t it dangerously irresponsible to write a newspaper article fearmongering about a drug shortage without even mentioning the very real possibility that the drug in question may be ineffective? But hey, Roche’s stock is at an all time high of $174.16, up 40 from the beginning of the summer. Better keep fueling that fire.

Monbu Daijin recommends martial arts as countermeasure to youth decadence

The most recent edition of Prime Minister Koizumi’s email magazine features an interesting article by Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Nakayama Nariaki.

nakayama

In the article, titled “My Proposal: The Encouragement of Martial Arts,” Nakayama writes:

Along with changes in socioeconomic factors in recent years, our children’s environment has changed drastically. Problems requiring our great concern are taking many different shapes, such as the deterioration of physical strength, the confusion of basic living habits, and common outbreaks of youth violence.

One of the causes of these problems is that in the post-war era, following the shock of our first defeat in recorded history, even Japan’s excellent traditions have been completely rejected. As one countermeasure to this condition, I would like to suggest the advancement of martial arts.

Martial arts have been developed by our forbearers throughout a long history and are a unique part of Japan’s traditional culture. Of course these arts aim to develop the body and mind through training, but they also seek to ultimately development one’s character, fostering a spirit of respect for civility and for one’s opponent. Thus, from the perspective of youth development, the advancement of martial arts is significant.

After reading the article, I took a look at Nakayama’s website only to discover that there is not a single mention of his rather impressive martial arts accomplishments (he has earned a 6th degree black belt in Karate and a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido). I found this rather disappointing and was even more disappointed to learn that that under his hobbies he had listed “reading” and “golf.”

Golf?

How is golf any better than dancing, which Nakayama criticizes as a waste of time?

To be fair, Nakayama was arguing in favor of the personal, spiritual, and moral benefits of martial arts during a youth’s formative years in junior high and high school. (He does tell us that his practice of martial arts had a great influence on his character development during his own early years.) Furthermore, since martial arts such as karate and aikido may be viewed as uniquely Japanese traditions I can certainly understand how their practice might, in addition to developing a strong character and other such benefits, also instill a healthy sense of national pride in Japanese youth.

However, I must respectfully disagree with the Minister that other disciplines, even non-Japanese ones, are a waste of time. Of course one’s dance or golf coach is probably not going to spend time lecturing on the fundamentals of ki or urging the use of force as only as a last resort. But when it comes to developing discipline, self-respect, perseverance, or other such universally admired characteristics, even sports such as golfing or dancing have a great deal to offer.

Surely even Mr. Nakayama could not look at Tiger Woods and with a straight face deny that golf has had a profound influence on his life in many of the same ways that martial arts probably had on Mr. Nakayama’s own life.

More controversy on Bernanke

Yesterady we posted an article from the Yomiuriabout some malcontented Japanese youth who vented their Greenspan-fatigue on homeless Alan look-a-likes.

bernanke

Now, the latest edition of the Onion’s “What do you think?” has another example of the cosmic record-skip that Bernanke’s appointment is causing.

Francis Englund, area Programmer, had this to say:

Dork

“He’s irreplaceable. This Bernanke guy may be an anti-inflation fiscal conservative, but you just can’t run the Fed if you’ve never screwed Ayn Rand.”

Well said my friend. You took the words right out of my mouth.

Koizumi on the radio

I found this a few minutes ago while digging around on the PM’s residence site looking for press conference transcripts (no luck).

Jun-chan

In spite of the majic mushrooms getting a shout out, this is unquestionably the creepiest bit of PR that he’s managed to pull out. I like the electronic newsletter, but the violin music in the background, combined with the sickeninly soft tone of his voice (he’s talking about postal privitization for God’s sake!) and the interviewer’s cluelessness make it sound like the beginning of some kind of bad porn flick.

“I’m the greatest, no?”

“Hai.”

“I really showed those monkeys in the upper house who’s boss, didn’t I?”

“Hai.”

“Admit it, I’m the sexiest man alive.”

“Hai.”

Hail to the king, baby.”

“Hai.”

Okay, sorry about that. I try to make an effort to keep things somewhat serious on my posts, but if Koizumi is going to use taxpayer money to make radio advertisements for his spaghettiwestern soundtrack...

...then I’m going to make fun of him.