Japan should just admit it didn’t accomplish anything in Iraq

Now that the troops are home, Japan’s government (and its good buddies in the Japanese media) can’t stop patting itself on the back for “completing its humanitarian mission” building schools and so on in Samawah even as the rest of Iraq succumbs to civil strife. From the initial announcement on June 20:

The Government of Japan decided today that it will redeploy the Ground Self-defense Force (GSDF) troops in Samawah, Iraq. This decision is based on the judgment that the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities in Iraq being conducted by the GSDF in Samawah have fulfilled a certain role. The Government of Japan has also taken into consideration the establishment of the new Iraqi Government by the Iraqi people themselves and the ongoing process of transferring security responsibility in Al-Muthanna Province, where the GSDF troops have been operating, to the new Iraqi Government, and close consultations with the United States (US) as well as the Multi-National Forces (MNF) and other nations including the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia.

President Bush apparently agrees with this sentiment during Koizumi’s June 29 US visit:

We — as I mentioned, we discussed Iraq and Afghanistan. By the way, the Japanese defense forces did a really good job when they were in Iraq. And they’re able to leave because they did such a good job. And now the Iraqis will be running the province in which the Japanese forces used to be. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister, as he mentioned in the comments, will continue to provide airlift capacity and naval help.

Japan’s top newspaper, the Daily Yomiuri, gushes over the SDF’s apparent accomplishments:

As Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put it, “There were no pistols fired, and no guns pointed at anybody,” and there were no fatalities among the GSDF personnel.

The work carried out by about 5,500 GSDF members has been given high marks by the Iraqi government, and their mission was a success.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun poll conducted earlier this month, 68 percent of pollees said the activities by members of the Self-Defense Forces “contributed” to the reconstruction of Iraq, compared with 28 percent who said they “made no contribution.” Gradually, the public are backing the activities of the SDF.

This is frankly pathetic. Let’s remind ourselves of what it’s like in Iraq right now:

In the first half of this year, 4,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians were killed — an average of more than 100 a day.

Some would say “What could Japan realistically do, given its pacifist constitution and the limited mandate provided by the special law that allowed them to be there in the first place?” Well, yeah. But in that case what were they doing there in the first place? And what right do they have to give themselves credit for cursory jobs that could have easily been covered by Americans?

The Nikkei at least admits the self-centered political calculations behind the deployment and doesn’t attempt to trumpet non-existent accomplishments:

EDITORIAL: GSDF Iraq Mission Ends With Constitutional Issue Unresolved

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force on Monday finished withdrawing its troops from Iraq after two and a half years of humanitarian activities there in a mission that marked a significant milestone in the postwar history of the nation’s defense policy.

Almost miraculously, GSDF troops suffered no casualties during the dangerous mission, which signaled Japan’s desire to play a greater role in the international arena and raised some important legal questions.

The GSDF’s operations in Iraq, which started in January 2004, were based on a special law to support the country’s reconstruction that came into effect in August 2003.

The government carefully planned and prepared for the operations to ensure that GSDF troops would not get embroiled in any armed battles. It selected the southern Iraqi city of Samawah as the site for the GSDF activities, rather than northern areas where U.S. troops are stationed, mainly for safety reasons. It was apparently the right decision.

I’ll agree with the editorials on the obvious point that Japan has crossed a certain line on its way to normalizing its military. But don’t let that delude you into thinking that somehow equates some actual accomplishments in Iraq, especially since it’s becoming clearer than ever that Iraq is on its way down the toilet.

CIA did support the LDP after all

The speculation can stop: Yes, the CIA did fund and advise LDP election activities in the 50s and 60s. But only about $75k per year, says a recently released “U.S. diplomatic document” according to the Mainichi Daily News. The real focus was on crushing and dividing the left, on which the Agency spent an average of half a million per year (presumably to pay informants/agents?). I wish I could get a hold of these documents, but it looks like the entire country is trying to access the State Dept. Website now for some crazy reason.

Economic White Paper reveals shortcomings of Japan’s labor system

Japan’s economic gap not growing as fast as the Gini coefficient would have us believe? According to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a recently released economic white paper details some key developments that could be skewing the data. From the Nikkei:

To prove the point [that the data are flawed], the white paper cited a nationwide consumption survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs showing that most of the growth in the income gap since 1989 stemmed from the fact that households composed of the elderly increased as a percentage of all households. The white paper cited a decline in the average number of members in Japanese households as another reason for the apparent widening of the income gap.

The big problem that could have “adverse effects” on the Japanese economy, the report says, is the now 3.6 million youngsters shooting themselves in the foot by insisting on living a free-wheeling lifestyle in a system that punishes them both socially and financially for it. In other words, if your average Japanese person doesn’t lock in a permanent position in that critical age window of 22 until around 30 (when the typical age discrimination kicks in), he or she has little chance of making as much lifetime income as someone who followed the rules. Of course, there’s nothing controversial about people making less money because they don’t have full-time jobs. The problem is that “full time” jobs (seiki koyo) in Japan are permanent (no firing/quitting as a general rule), so when times get rough, companies have filled up vacant posts with “part time” or contract positions that pay fewer benefits, lower wages, and don’t have the same amount of security in exchange for working the same hours and often performing the same job as full time employees. In terms of effects, the report estimates that once this “Freeter” generation (named after a Janglish word for part-timer) hits middle age in 2015, this phenomenon will result in a 4.9 trillion yen (or 0.9%) loss in GDP.

While part-time work might work for women (who face social pressure against pursuing a career and who may want to work fewer hours while raising children) and old people, young workers who enter companies as part time employees find themselves trapped because while regulations were changed in the 1990s to allow for non-seiki employees, there was no concurrent reform of the seiki system – age discrimination included. If the youngsters continue working part time until they hit the age ceiling, then they are screwed.

Adamu’s Politically Untenable Solution? remove restrictions on firing full time workers (or simply introduce an “at will” employment system), eliminate age discrimination, and otherwise create a truly flexible labor market. GOJ/Shinzo Abe‘s politically sexy solution? Treat part time workers the same as full time workers, raise the maximum hiring age, and encourage more mid-career hiring.

Net Neutrality

The Net Neutrality debate rages on, and I’m sure every reader is enough aware of the basics so that I need not summarize. My friend Younghusband over at the Cominganarchy blog made a brief post earlier in support of Net Neutrality. I began to write my own thoughts as a comment there but then thought, why not post it here instead?

Without Net Neutrality the hopes for future innovation, future disruptive technologies in the future are dim.

The fundamental misunderstanding about Net Neutrality is the nature of what some of the network providers really want to do when it’s gone. Net freedom advocates have been trying to paint a picture of a world in which the network providers are allowed to charge content providers for higher quality service to that network’s customers and to then throttle down the speed and reliabilty of servers that have not paid up. Unfortunately, there is a general misconception that this is how it already works, because content providers must pay for their bandwidth.

Let me be clear- this is NOT how it works now. Yes, when you connect a server to the Internet you pay for the size of the connection you get, for the amount of data that you send. But this payment is only on the server end, and while it may be expensive if you send alot of data, it is also a single payment (leaving out regional mirrors or media distribution services like Akamai or whatever).

What network providers would like to be able to do is force servers to pay not only at their end, but also to each individual ISP, for premium access to that ISP’s customers. This would mean that, say, Youtube would have to pay not just for the fair cost of their presumably massive network connection, but also pay each and every single ISP, AT&T, Comcast, AOL, SBC, Earthlink if they wanted all Americans to be able to access their service.

Now imagine how much worse it gets in an international environment. Youtube is an American company, primarily aimed at Americans, and yet it has become very popular in Japan despite not even having a Japanese language interface. If a so called “tiered internet” were standard, then Youtube would have had to pay KDDI, NTT and YahooBB to guarantee access to the Japanese market before they could have become popular. But their popularity here was unexpected and unmarketed, spread by word of mouth. This sort of serendipitous success that has made the Internet what it is today would be no more.

There would be no more underground successes like, in reverse chronological order, Youtube, Myspace, iTunes, Friendster, Google, Napster, Yahoo. Everything would have to have its target market planned out in advance. For a startup without the budget to pay for access to every local ISP in the world, they would have to identify in advance their projected customer base through marketing surveys, demographic analysis, and the other insults and discrimination towards consumers that we as a society have become used to over the decades. It would be the death of grassroots popularity and a return to the centralized marketing driven media hegemony of the past, and it would be an awful tragedy.

Lapses of historical education: Spain edition

To readers of this blog, when you think of controversy over history education you may very well think of Japan first. The teaching of history in Japan has been a huge issue in recent years, with a certain infamous textbook even sparking protests in China and South Korea, but even as dismal as Japan’s teaching of certain dark aspects of their Imperial past can be, some other countries have it far worse.

According to the BBC:

But despite the importance of this Civil War, one survey shows that 50% of Spaniards have not talked about it at home. And 35% say they were never taught what happened in 1936, at school.

This amnesia has been actively encouraged at a political level.

Thirty years ago, Spain’s emerging new democracy felt so threatened by the ghosts of the Civil War and the recently defunct Franco regime that there was a ‘Pact of Silence’ between the left and the right of politics not to raise the issue or seek reparations for crimes committed by the dictatorship.

I find it somewhat mind-boggling that history classes in Spain have actually managed to keep the Spanish Civil War off the curriculum for so many years. What did they even talk about instead?

But Spain realizes that history can only be ignored for so long, and on the 70th anniversary of the rise of Spanish fascism they are preparing to address the past publicly for the first time.

The legislation will provide compensation for those who suffered under the dictatorship and is also expected to makes changes to General Franco’s most imposing legacy: The Valley of the Fallen, the former leader’s colossal burial chamber on the outskirts of the capital.

One suggestion is to convert part of the monument into an education centre about fascism. And, for the first time, the local authorities are expected to have guidelines to help people locate the bodies of family members, still missing, who were murdered during the Franco regime.

The government says its Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory is not about rewriting history, or making people responsible for crimes of the past. But for many Spaniards it represents a new willingness to examine the truth about their history.

The part about “not rewriting history” makes me wonder, is actually altering Franco’s monument a good idea? Despite all of the atrocities that he was responsible for, are the interested of a more accurate actually history served by altering a well known monument, or would it be better to leave it alone and simply build a new one?

I think of Taipei’s Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Built in the style of China’s Ming Imperial Tombs (which I think gives a fairly accurate hint as to Chiang’s aspirations) shortly after his death in 1975, this admittedly very attractive complex is dedicated to the memory of a man who’s name peppers the names of streets and schools in Taiwan as much as “The People’s” whatever does in the Mainland-a man who ruled Taiwan for decades with a brutality comparable to that of Franco’s, and whose policies were according to some responsible for the ROC loss of the Chinese Civil War, and later ROC/Taiwan’s UNSC seat.

After military rule ended and Taiwan democratized, what did they do with the memorial? Well, they kept it basically the same. Chiang is still deeply respected by much of the population, particularly supports of his former ruling party, and much like Spain (up until now) there has never been a truth commission, and the former dictator’s official public image may be tarnished, but hardly criticized on the level of Spain’s former-dictator. The memorial is given a military honor guard, still filled with memorabilia of his life, and and I believe still has text claiming that he was responsible for fostering Taiwanese democracy in the 40’s and 50’s (although I could be mixing it up with text I saw at his former house up on Yangmingshan- but more likely both have similar text.)

On the other hand, the lower level of the CKS Memorial Hall is used for a host of general cultural events, such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration and a children’s science fair (two examples I saw myself) and the grounds are used at least weekly for various performances and festivals. While these activities do not exactly undermine it as a memorial, they do subtly alter the perception of the memorial itself by creating an image of the area as a public space devoted to positive activities, and somewhat weakening its role simply as a place of veneration for a political figure. This could be seen as reflecting to a degree the way in which nationalism in Taiwan has itself shifted away from being so linked with political figures and the Nationalist Party to a popular nationalism today more based on an independent culture and political system. By filling the Memorial CKS Hall with unrelated cultural events, it comes to be thought of more as a convenient performance space than a political symbol.

Compare General Chiang Kai Shek in Taiwan with General Francisco Franco. According to Wikipedia:

Since Franco’s death, almost all the placenames named after him (most Spanish towns had a calle del GeneralĂ­simo) have been changed. This holds particularly true in the regions ruled by parties heir to the Republican side, while in other regions of central Spain rulers have preferred not to change such placenames, arguing they would rather not stir the past. Most statues or monuments of him have also been removed, and, in the capital, Madrid, the last one standing was removed in March 2005.

Will Spain follow up by also altering the Valley of the Fallen? Will the government pay restitution to victims? How will they teach the Civil War-just flip it around and focus on all the bad things Franco and the Nationalists did, or explore the divisions in society that led to the conflict? Choosing a balanced approach to the teaching of history is always difficult, and in conflicts like this one which are particularly bitter there is a tendency towards propaganda in favor of whichever side is in power. According to the Guardian News Blog, a survey conducted by a Spanish newspaper says that one in three Spaniards still believes that Franco was right to overthrow the Republican government. Finding a historical narrative that can satisfy the two-thirds and the one-third is going to be difficult.

To me the “West” means the English-speaking world

I speak English and Japanese, but not French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian or any other Western language. So when you hear me talk about the “Western media” I am basically talking about sources from English-speaking world or occasionally English language services of “Western” publications. Just wanted you to know that.

Great site that needs an RSS feed #232: Sankei Breaking News

Want to know what just happened in Japan or areas that Japan cares about? Well if you can read Japanese fragment sentences, the best free place to turn is probably Sankei Breaking News. I bet you didn’t know that eel prices are up 20% on low catches of sardines and fewer imports from China, did you?

Only thing is you actually have to load the site to see it. That is so 2003!

Fire spinning on Kamogawa [Photos]

The penultimate night of the Gion Matsuri, and on my way home from being swept down Karasuma Dori through the hordes of locals and tourists buying mediocre festival food like a mentally handicapped salmon not sure which way is upstream, I stumbled across this excellent performance just below Sanjo Bridge on my way home.

All photos taken with Canon EOS 300d and EFs 17-85 IS lense. Naturally, these effects come from long exposures.

Spinning fire

Spinning fire

Fire Spinning

Fire Spinning

Spinning fire

Spinning fire

Fire eating

Fire eating