Two busted with illicit beef

Today’s Taipei Times has this brief news item.

Two people were caught last Wednesday at the CKS International Airport trying to bring in beef from Japan, despite a ban on its import, the Taipei Customs Offices said yesterday. Japan is the only Asian victim of mad cow disease and has reported 20 cases since September 2001. The government has banned the import of Japanese beef since 2001. Inspectors seized nearly 20kg of frozen beef from the luggage of the two passengers, including a Taiwanese and a Japanese, when they arrived from Tokyo aboard a China Airlines flight. The smuggled beef was shipped to a quarantine center in Hsinchu where it will be destroyed.

It’s almost funny that Japan, which has had 20 confirmed cases of mad cow disease, has banned beef from the US, which has had no cases of human transmission in that same time period.

Is blogging a good idea at all?

I get tremendously tired of all the self congratulatory talk about blogging that goes around on many blogs and don’t believe that I’ve ever posted anything of the sort, but there’s a first time for everything.

This column published today at the tech news and analysis site Ars Technica is a little troubling and raises some serious doubts about whether somebody who is even considering going into academia in the future should be blogging at all.

Blogging and job prospects: from the academy to the SCOTUS

Here’s the meatiest excerpt, but I would, as always, recommend reading the entire piece.

Ultimately, I think the answer to this dilemma is pretty clear: graduate students simply should not blog, and if they do blog they should never do so under their real names. As a grad student, your writing time is much better spent producing papers that will get you feedback from the folks who you’re paying to study under. Furthermore, anything that you have to say that’s even remotely interesting to anyone other than your parents and your best friend from childhood is not worth publishing online when it could easily come back to haunt you years later. And the more interesting and relevant your comments on the pressing issues of the day, the more you should keep them strictly confined to the kinds of everyday offline intellectual conversations that make academic life so rewarding.

Publishing edited content in an online venue is also very risky for graduate students, especially if you’re staking out a position on a highly charged topic. I know of at least one fellow grad student who failed the final round of a job search thanks to comments of his a on hot-button social issue that were published in the house organ of his denomination. Apparently, he came down on the opposite side of that issue from some influential faculty on the job search committee, and his candidacy was sunk.

DPJ’s Okada Has Big Aims for Next Election

In a town meeting in Shinza City, Saitama Prefecture, Katsuya Okada (profile), president of the Democratic Party of Japan, Japan’s main opposition party, made a big claim among his usual policy statements: in the next election he thinks he can take the government.

“Our goal is regime change. When we overtake the Liberal Democratic Party in the next elections and take over the government, then it will be time to celebrate.”

On the recent [very close] passage of the postal privatization bills in the upper house, Okada said, “I was so excited.” He offered harsh criticism to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and LDP Secretary-General Tsutomu Takebe, calling their recent comments [threats to dissolve the Lower House] “incoherent.” He then restated his commitment that “the bills must not pass the Upper House [where they will enter deliberation next week].”

He then set his sights on the weakened LDP: “Right now the Koizumi government can’t do anything big without the approval of the New Komeito. He won’t be able to dissolve the Lower House.” But he did not rule it out, saying “I don’t know what will happen. I can’t deny the possibility of dissolution and a general election.”

About the DPJ’s prospects for the next election: “If we win in 170 single-member districts and combine those with proportional seats, we will be able to form a DPJ government.” When considering the prospects of a DPJ government, he added, “If we stayed in power for 2 terms (8 years) we could do quite a lot.”

Besides his big election hopes, the town meeting gave him the chance to repeat the DPJ’s populist platform, including the “Japan isn’t 100% at fault, but then neither are Korea or China” stance on the recent diplomatic troubles in the region (he called Koizumi’s stance “narrow-minded nationalism”), his continued stance against raising taxes (including the consumption tax), a push to reform the national pension system and the highway system.

Comment: That’s a tall order for the DPJ. They are now hurrying to prepare for the snap elections since they haven’t even fielded candidates in 42 of those districts. This meeting was likely an effort to promote DPJ Lower House candidate Hideo Kazuki and to accumulate election funds, an area in which the DPJ severely lags behind the LDP. But who knows, they might just be able to ride the anti-postal privatization sentiment to victory. 51 LDP members refused to side with the government out of fears that they would be voted out of office.

The sad thing is postal privatization is a painful but necessary step for Japan to rebuild its economy. The DPJ is being short-sighted in opposing it, and I don’t see much of an alternative plan coming from them. My next post on the DPJ will take a closer look at their policies.

Harutoshi Fukui and Japan’s SDF fiction

The NYT today has a neat article by the very prolific Norimitsu Onishi entitled For a Hungry Audience, a Japanese Tom Clancy.

This year, three big-budget war movies based on Mr. Fukui’s stories are being released here, a sign of how much Japan itself has changed in the short time that he has risen from obscurity to pop culture prominence. Unlike Hollywood, Japan’s film industry traditionally avoided making movies with military themes, especially ones in which the military was portrayed heroically.

What is more, the Self-Defense Forces used to participate mainly in “Godzilla” movies, typically keeping public order as the lizard ran amok. But for the first time in postwar Japan, this year’s movies, with the full cooperation of the military, show the armed forces doing what they have yet to do in the real world since World War II: fight and kill.

“It can undoubtedly be attributed to the times,” Mr. Fukui said.

Mr. Fukui sat down for an interview here on Monday, looking a little out of place, underdressed in jeans and a T-shirt, in the Imperial Hotel’s lobby cafe. While demure about his success – “my life hasn’t changed that much,” Mr. Fukui said – he seemed a little weary, perhaps somehow world-weary, compared with his demeanor during an interview in April in his neighborhood in eastern Tokyo.

Back then, the first movie, “Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean,” a World War II tale of a Japanese submarine that foils American plans to drop a third atomic bomb, on Tokyo, was already a certified hit. In June, the second movie, “Sengoku Jieitai 1549,” or “Samurai Commando Mission 1549,” was released, offering a story of Self-Defense Forces sent back in time to a Japan riven by civil war.

This month, “Bokoku no Aegis,” or “A Lost Country’s Aegis,” will open, featuring some of Japan’s biggest male stars in a story about a terrorist who infiltrates a Japanese military vessel. The terrorist in the novel is clearly identified as North Korean; in the movie, though, he could be from either North Korea or China, two countries with which Japan’s relations have recently worsened.

Adamu has previously blogged about the remake of Sengoku Jieitai, the original version of which was actually released in the US under the silly title GI Samurai. I should, however, clarify Onishi’s article. Mr. Fukui did not write the novel that Sengoku Jieitai 1549 was based on. It is a remake of a 1979 film, which was itself based on a novel by Ryo Hanmura. Mr. Fukui only helped with updating the story, presumably because of his Tom Clancy-like (or if you will, otaku-like) knowledge of today’s SDF.

Unfortunately, according to these Amazon user reviews the remake actually compares very poorly with the original, an opinion which this decently detailed review at IMDB agrees with.

Here is IMDB’s plot summary of the original film, Sengoku Jieitai (Japan’s Self Defense Forces in the warring states period).

A squadron of Japanese Self-Defense Force soldiers find themselves transported through time to their country’s warring states era, when rival samurai clans were battling to become the supreme Shogun. The squad leader, Lt. Iba, sees this as the perfect opportunity to realize his dream of becoming the ruler of Japan. To achieve this, he teams his troops up with those of Kagatori, a samurai daimyo who also aspires to become Shogun. Are either of these power-hungry warriors to be trusted?

Here you can see the trailer for the original 1979 version, courtesy of Amazon Japan. I haven’t yet had a chance to see the film, but aside from the bizzarely inappropriate music it seems very cool.

And here is the trailer for the remake. It may not have the charm of the original, but from the trailer it looks to have a level of big budget production quality that has been very, very scarce in Japanese films for a number of years. And shit, even a film about time traveling soldiers fighting Oda Nobunaga has got to be less corny than Tom Cruise as The Last Samurai.

Japan to extend visa waver

The Taipei Times buried this rather significant news item in their ‘Taiwan Quick Takes’ section.

Japan’s ruling coalition has decided to propose that the parliament make a special law to allow Taiwanese to enter the country visa-free after the Aichi Expo ends in September. Japan currently offers visa-free treatment to Taiwanese tourists during the Expo, which ends Sept. 25. At a meeting Wednesday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito resolved to ask their lawmakers to put forward a special bill making such treatment permanent. Taiwan is the second-largest source of foreign visitors to Japan after South Korea. In February, a special law was passed to allow Taiwanese people to enter for 90 days without a visa during the Aichi Expo. The law went into effect March 11. According to the Taiwan Visitors Association, almost 740,000 Taiwanese visited Japan last year and the new measure is expected to boost that number.

Tibet and Taiwan

Taipei Times reports:

President praises Dalai Lama as the `world’s greatest’
By Huang Tai-lin
Thursday, Jul 07, 2005,Page 1

Two Tibetan monks from Gyutod Tantric Monastery in Dharamsala create a sand mandala yesterday at an exhibition featuring photos of the Dalai Lama and other exhibits presenting Tibetan culture. The exhibition was sponsored by the Tibetan Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and is a part of events celebrating the 70th birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama.
President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday joined dignitaries and celebrities from around the world in sending a birthday greeting to the Dalai Lama, who turned 70 yesterday.

Chen praised the Tibetan spiritual leader as “the world’s greatest religious leader” and expressed hope that the Buddhist icon would make a third visit to Taiwan to “allow an opportunity for believers in Taiwan to be showered in his wisdom and cheerful presence.”

Noting Taiwan and Tibet’s similar predicaments, in which both have suffered due to Chinese military expansionism, the president said “Taiwan can identify with Tibet’s experience, and is willing to step up efforts enhancing exchanges and cooperation between Taiwan and Tibet.”

[Read the rest of the article on the original site]

For some reason this article neglects to mention the rather interesting fact that the aforementioned exhibition is actually taking place inside Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall! As chance has it, I had lunch after class yesterday with two friends, and we decided to try the Tibetan restaurant near campus, where a non-Chinese English speaking Tibetan fellow patron told me about this exhibition, which started yesterday and will run for about one month. I decided to stop by, but I got there a bit too early and it was really in the process of being set up. Still, there were several lamas (Tibetan Buddhist priests around) and I spent a few minutes chatting with a couple of them.

Of course, while all of the visiting priests are Tibetan, none of them are actually residents of Tibet, but of Tibet’s government in exile, located in the Indian city of Dharamsala. Of the two I spoke to, one had actually been born and raised in Tibet, and only left for India at the age of twenty five, whereas the other had actually been born outside of Tibet. There is no actual Tibetan community in Tibet, and no real Lama Buddhist temples, but there is a “Tibetan Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” where they are based for their stay in Taiwan. I asked if they expected the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan again soon, but they seemed to think that he would be keeping away for the time being to avoid political friction, although considering he has visited twice in the past, and even visited Mongolia quite recently over extreme objections from China, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall main entrance
For those of you who don’t know, here is a picture of the hall, built in the style of the Ming Imperial Tombs, so that everybody knew exactly how humble Chiang was.

Dalai Lama bday poster
The poster advertising the exhibition.

Lama in CKS Hall
The two lama priests.

Reporter convicted of revealing state secrets

No, I’m not talking about Judith Miller, but considering that a judge has just ordered her incarceration, this story from yesterday’s Japan Times is particularly timely.

Trial opens over denial of secret accord with U.S.

A court battle opened Tuesday on a damages suit filed by a former Mainichi Shimbun reporter who claims his career was ruined after he was wrongly convicted for reporting on an alleged secret pact between Japan and the United States over the 1972 reversion of Okinawa.

Takichi Nishiyama, 73, is seeking 33 million yen in compensation and an apology from the government, arguing his report that Japan secretly shouldered $4 million of the costs for Okinawa’s reversion from the U.S. has been backed up by the release of U.S. government documents in 2000 and 2002.

“It is a state crime to submit a false treaty text to the Diet for discussion and approval, and it is an abuse of power to indict a reporter who tried to inform the public of the state crime,” Nishiyama says in the complaint.

[Read the rest of the article at the original site]

Asia Private Equity

Here’s an excerpt from the July 6 edition of the Asia Private Equity newsletter. You may want to re-read Saru’s earlier posts on Chinese currency as background.
RMB Notes Part 1
RMB Notes Part 2

These days, however, there is really no place in America that hums with the kind of 24-hour activity that Beijing has. But this week in Beijing, an official of the State Administration for Foreign Exchange (SAFE) showed up at one of China ‘s principal private equity events and delivered enough bad news to make every Beijing Duck eating capitalist dyspeptic. SAFE, the government agency that has brought private equity in China to its knees in six short months by issuing two controversial circulars in January and April, is, according to the official, pretty pleased with itself and the progress it’s making in developing regulations to prevent rich Chinese entrepreneurs from secreting away hundreds of millions from their IPOs in the U.S., in banks in the Cayman Islands or other places.

The problem with the understandable desire of Chinese authorities to tax its citizens is that in trying to accomplish that goal, it has effectively brought down the curtain on the clever legal structures, WOFEs, developed in 1999, which private equity firms have used for the last six years to get their money back out of China investments. And according to SAFE’s Li-Ping Lu, there is nothing on the horizon, other than a bunch of cranky Chinese and American VCs, that is likely to change the current situation.

When Lu shared those and other less positive views, the PE professionals in Beijing this past week turned as surly as a bunch of striking teamsters. WOFEs are, it seems, pretty much dead in the water. And until somebody in the Chinese government does or says something different, private equity firms are having to retreat into joint ventures (sometimes referred to as Chinese PE roach motels–investors check in, but they don’t check out) or giving their portfolio companies bridge loans until or even more troublingly, working with Chinese partners on the basis of “gentleman’s agreements.” When is the last time you saw a VC fork over a million for a handshake?

To paraphrase Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, it’s going to be a long, hot summer. And it’s never going to end.

— Editor Jerry Borrell (

Crazy — Namco and Bandai to Merge


I’m too tired to think of anything but postal privatization these days, but here you go:

Japanese toy and game firms merge
May 3, 2005

By Shingo Ito

Japan’s top toy maker, Bandai, known for its Gundam sci-fi robots, yesterday announced it would merge with Pac-Man maker Namco to survive tough competition in an ever tighter market of fewer and fewer children.

The merger, which would create Japan’s second-largest toy and game firm after Sega Sammy Holdings, could take on the dominance of Walt Disney, Bandai president Takeo Takasu told a news conference.

“It is the best match considering the characteristics and strengths of both companies,” Takasu said.

“In terms of content, Disney may become our competitor and as for the location [of game arcades], we will compete with Sega.”

The two companies said they needed to consolidate to face up to demographic realities in Japan, which has one of the world’s lowest birth rates as young people increasingly push back marriage, leaving the population ageing quickly.

“Global competition is intensifying in the world’s entertainment industry as technological innovation has enhanced the networking environment,” the two companies said in a joint statement.

“On the domestic market, we face the strong need to win customers with the number of children decreasing and hobbies and pastimes diversifying,” the statement said.

What better way to celebrate the 25th birthday of Pacman, the character that built Namco into what it is today, than to destroy the company as it has always existed? Just for the hell of it, here are some reviews from some of both companies’ great products:

Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam

July 4, 2005 – I’m lazy, and I’m writing this review (if you even call it that) in an attempt to equalize the absolutely astoundingly high reviews some of you gave this game. Why not give the general public some respect. A good show does not reflect a good game, so use some common knowledge, and throw your fanboyism out the window. Here are some quotes by Ed in his recent mailbag that I would like you all to read:

Yeah, it’s obvious that this is a game for the fans. It has the word Gundam in the title three times over so that the idiots who like the series couldn’t miss it even if they tried. Seriously, who the hell has the franchise name done in triplicate? But as for the casual gamer who wants to jump into it, I couldn’t recommend it at all. The battles were boring, the controls pathetic and the graphics could barely hold up the meager attempt at any visual style they tried to project.

As an overall experience, the game was just lacking in several ways. After hours of play I couldn’t see any reason to go on unless you really loved the sword-wielding bots.

How about Namco?

Namco Museum Volume 1

I played this game and I hated it. The game isn”t even worth playing because it has so little to it. Its just the same boring games rereleased so namco could make a quick buck from an old classic. I wouldn”t even give this game 1star if I had the choice.

Looks like they both suck. Case closed. Just kidding, they are two of the coolest companies ever.

Pink is so last five-year plan

More fashion news from the North. Hot on the heels of news that short side and back haircuts are all the rage, we have this from Yahoo News:

SEOUL (Reuters) – Pink, red and yellow are the fashion colours of choice for North Korea’s nouveau-riche who no longer want to be seen in the drab black and white outfits of the proletariat, a South Korean paper reported on Monday.

Read the rest of the article…