Australia makes latest apology for history

I’m far too sick at the moment to think of anything clever to say about it, but I’d like to just make sure everybody noticed that Australia’s Liberal Party-led government is set to issue a national apology for wrongs committed against the Aborigines.

a decade ago the Victorian Parliament had unanimously passed a motion moved by then Liberal premier Jeff Kennett apologising to Aboriginal people for removing children from their families.


Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the apology would be made on behalf of the Australian Government “and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people”.


But some prominent Opposition MPs defended the actions of churches and government agencies in removing children from their families.

Opposition health spokesman Joe Hockey said churches acted “only with good intentions”.

Queensland Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce went further, declaring that some indigenous people had actually benefited from the removal.

“If you are rescuing a child from a violent or from a threatening situation then that is the right thing for a state to do,” Mr Hockey told Radio 2UE.

Senator Joyce said an apology would be “an empty rhetorical statement for the chattering classes in the inner suburbs”.

The uniqueness of commercial bail bonds

An article in today’s NYT on the uniqueness of the United States commercial bail bond system includes this very interesting tidbit.

Commercial bail bond companies dominate the pretrial release systems of only two nations, the United States and the Philippines.

Although the article does not actually say, I think it is safe to assume that this is a direct result of the fact that the Philippine legal system was constructed during the period of US colonial rule. Those non-American readers who may be unfamiliar with the commercial bail bond system may with to read the explanation in the NYT article to fully appreciate the global oddity of the system. From my brief perusal of some Philippine web pages, it certainly looks like both countries share the institution. For example, look at this page from a Manila metro area attorney’s office:

Paying Bail


You can pay the full amount of the bail in Cash. If you are acquitted, you can withdraw the Bail that you posted. You can also buy a surety bind or post your property to pay for your bail.


Bail bond is like a check held in reserve: it represents the person’s promise that he or she will appear in court when required to. The bail bond is purchased by payment of a  non-refundable premium (usually about 15% – 35% of the face amount of the bond).


A bail bond may sound like a good deal, but buying a surety bond may cost more in the long run. This is so because you have to renew the surety bond upon its expiration otherwise, upon motion of the prosecution, a warrant of arrest will be issued for failure to renew the surety bond. If the full amount of the bail is paid, it will be refunded (less a small administrative fee) when the case is over and all required appearances have been made. On the other hand, the 15%-35 premium is nonrefundable. In addition, the bond seller may require “collateral.” This means that the person who pays for the bail bond must also give the bond seller a financial interest in some of the person’s valuable property. The bond seller can cash in on this interest if the suspect fails to appear in court.

 The curious may also want to see the amounts of bail set for various crimes under Republic of the Philippines law.

Adamu update

Now that I no longer have to spend all my waking hours translating, Mutant Frog will soon be filled once again with Adamu posts. Between moving to Japan from Bangkok, adjusting to a new city and a new job, taking on way too much work than I should, getting married, and settling into my new apartment in the ghetto, Mutant Frogging and my other hobbies have been essentially on hold. But now the last of my side work is done (the last two months have been dominated by a project involving a certain Japanese-run bank in Indonesia… more on that later) so I plan on having much, much more free time.

Over the nine months that have passed since I arrived in Japan, my interests have shifted quite a bit. Living in Tokyo and working in the finance industry tends dominate my thinking these days, even if I am anything but a financial expert. I try to avoid issuing opinions on things I know absolutely nothing about, but perhaps you will start seeing more finance related posts. Tidbits from my studies and independent research will also hopefully figure in.

I’ve told some that blogging rots your brain, and to an extent it does (at least my brain anyway). To be honest, I hardly remember many of the posts after I do them. The months I spent blogging the Abe administration from Bangkok are mostly a blur, for example, and at any rate they were little more than idle prattling with no real point. One thing that is different from my previous blogging activities is that my free time, while increased now that I am concentrating on my day job, is quite limited. I want to make sure I blog more time efficiently.

But I have certainly missed the best part of blogging – interacting with readers as a sort of sounding board for ideas and debate. The occasional debates in the comments section are especially edifying and exhilarating. Now that Mutant Frog is entering its third year, I hope we can keep building a fun audience and keep doing what we enjoy.

Word of the year- part 3

After a long post a few weeks ago on candidates for word of the year 2007, I’ve just noticed an important addition. The American Dialect Society announced about three weeks ago that “subprime” was voted word of the year bu their members.

Subprime is an adjective used to describe a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage, or investment. Subprime was also winner of a brand-new 2007 category for real estate words, a category which reflects the preoccupation of the press and public for the past year with a deepening mortgage crisis.

After seeing all the headlines about stock market crash and recession, I’m well convinced that “subprime” is a solid choice. We’ll be hearing a lot more of this word in the months to come.

The Oxford University Press USA blog has a post responding to this announcement, with some valuable information on the history of the word.

In its earliest attested usage, subprime simply meant “substandard” or “below top quality” in a very general sense. A 1960 article in Operational Research Quarterly referred to “sub-prime material” that can cause delays in automatic data-recording equipment. And in 1970, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Armco steel company was introducing a “subprime” line of cold-rolled sheet metal, “intended for users that don’t need surface qualities 100% free of defects, principally for use in unexposed parts, including the back of a refrigerator.” Over time, this sense of subprime was extended in all sorts of directions, such as this Toronto Star critique of a cinematic performance by Madonna in 1993: “her ‘work’ in Body Of Evidence is sub-prime.”

In the mid-1970s, subprime began to be used in the banking sector, but in a context that is just about the opposite of current usage. Rather than relating to the risky credit status of a borrower, subprime originally described a “below prime” lending rate — in other words, below the prime rate that banks and other lending institutions offer to qualified customers. So in this sense, a loan with a subprime rate is a good thing for the borrower, who is allowed to pay an interest rate lower than what is typically offered. That explains this quote from an August 1975 Associated Press article: “Isn’t the prime supposed to go only to the most credit-worthy customers? Why, therefore, they might ask, was subprime offered to a municipality whose credit standing is suspect?” Similarly, a March 1978 article in Institutional Investor told of banks “offering sub-prime rates to lure back customers.”

It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that the currently popular sense of subprime became widespread. Now it was the borrowers themselves who were being classified as “less than prime” based on their credit histories. Customers in this high-risk category were increasingly able to borrow money from established lenders, particularly to pay for mortgages, automobile loans, and the like. Whereas the older sense of subprime implied a loan with a low interest rate, the subprime loans of the ’90s and ’00s have rates much higher than standard. An April 1995 article in Retail Banker International described auto-lending companies offering “loans of new and late-model cars to consumers with imperfect (’sub-prime’) credit histories.” And a February 1997 New York Times article heralded the coming crisis: “A Risky Business Gets Even Riskier: Big Losses and Bad Accounting Leave ‘Subprime’ Lenders Reeling.”

The two competing senses of subprime, referring either to favorable low-interest loans or to unfavorable high-interest ones, would seem to be in direct opposition. You might even call it a “Janus-faced word” or “contronym,” i.e., a word that serves as its own antonym, like cleave or sanction. But the surrounding context should be enough to establish whether it’s the lending rate or the borrower that is considered subprime. Consider another sub- word, subpar. For a golfer, a subpar score is a good thing, but in its more general sense subpar typically characterizes an inferior performance. Only context can resolve the conflict.

As the word subprime becomes more widely known, we can expect many new extensions of meaning. A recent MSNBC report on business buzzwords claims that the word is already in use as a verb “loosely defined as the ability to completely dig one’s self into a hole and then expect a bailout,” as in “I completely subprimed my Algebra test yesterday.” As far as I can tell, that kind of usage is a figment of the reporter’s fertile imagination, since even Urbandictionary, that student favorite, is thus far unaware of subprime as a generic verb. (When the word does show up as a verb, it tends to be in punning formations like “subpriming the pump” or as an ad-hoc reflexive: a columnist for the Aspen Times wrote that “homeowners have subprimed themselves into an economic disaster.”) But let’s hope that the subprime crisis subsides before it spawns too many new additions to our vocabulary. Even if it’s enriching to the lexicon, it’s hardly enriching to the economy.

When you consider that this is the kind of historical, etymological and contextual usage information that goes into almost every entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, I think you’ll see why I consider it unambiguously the best dictionary in the world.

I still think they taste like cardboard

Everyone reading this is familiar with the tasteless paper-filled, paper-textured fortune cookie right? Long thought to have originated as a gimmick desert in one of California’s Chinatowns sometimes in the late 19th or early 20th century, new research strongly suggests that, despite being popularized by the Chinese, fortune cookies were actually invented by Japanese immigrants, who had gotten their inspiration from snacks sold at a Kyoto bakery. The New York Times has an excellent article detailing the whole story, which I must say I find surprisingly convincing. I think anyone else familiar with the wide range of tasteless Japanese traditional snacks (八ッ橋 anyone ? ), the Japanese love for fortunes, and of the tasteless fortune-filled “fortune cookies” distributed inevitably in American Chinese restaurants will also, upon reflection, find the resemblance highly suggestive.

One foreigner’s perspective on American and Japanese immigration security procedures

Jade OC, a long time reader and commenter of MFT, has graciously posted a detailed comparison of his experiences passing through both US and Japanese airline security and immigration checkpoints as a comment on an earlier blog post on the subject. As I suspect that many of our readers look only at the actual posts and not the comments, I thought I would promote this one to the front page.

As promised, here is my short report on the fingerprinting-immigration process in the US and Japan from the POV of a non-citizen of either (though a resident of Japan).

First big complaint. I never wanted to go to the US at all, at least not the first time. But you cannot bloody transit in the US – there’s no such thing as a transit lounge. Everyone who enters a US airport from outside the country, even if, like me, you are just taking a flight to Canada in about 90 minutes, needs to go through Immigration and Customs. This is seriously Fucked Up.

Continue reading One foreigner’s perspective on American and Japanese immigration security procedures

More apologies

This is already a week old, but did anyone notice that the very same day US Congressman Mike Honda (D, California) issued yet another call for Japan to issue a more concrete apology to former comfort women, New Jersey became the first Northern state in the United States to issue a formal apology for our state’s history of slavery? Although four Southern states of Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and North Carolina had previously issued similar resolutions, the fact that many Northern states still allowed slave-holding well into the 19th century has been largely ignored. New Jersey, for example, did not finally ban slavery until 1846. There has been no such resolution at the federal level.

While it might be nice to see the Japanese government officially acknowledge past crimes in more specificity, perhaps the US Congress should apologize for slavery at the national level before its members go overseas to demand that foreign governments do the same thing. Maybe by setting a moral example, Mister Honda might convince a wider audience of his credibility.

Oh, and as for the Japanese government’s previous apologies. While they were a good start, they really could be more specific. Take a look at the actual text of last week’s New Jersey slavery apology resolution and think about how they compare.

Update: I feel like I should add that I don’t consider a simple apology in and of itself very worthwhile. The important thing about the New Jersey resolution is not so much that it apologizes, but that it lists both the actual crimes and in historical context and legacy in a decently comprehensive outline, and then also explicitly calls for continuing education on the subject. Let me quote the “statement” at the end of the resolution.

This concurrent resolution issues a formal apology on behalf of the State of New Jersey for its role in slavery and discusses the history of racism and inhumane treatment toward African-Americans in the United States from the arrival of its first settlers to the present day. It calls upon the citizens of this State to remember that slavery continues to exist and encourages them to teach about the history and legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

While I think it was sloppy phrasing not to say something like “continues to exist in parts of the world,” resolutions like this are important not because they can make people feel good about their awesomeness in making said apology, but because it can contribute to the education of the populace.

Real life first stories of modern first contact

First contact with previously unknown societies is not just the stuff of science fiction and the distant past, but still happens from time in some of the remotest parts of the world. The Washington Post has a fantastic long feature chronicling the adventurous life of one man who had made it his life’s work to discover, and aid, these isolated tribes-a unique Brazilian profession known as a “sertanista.” A sample passage:

It had been just over a year since they had made first contact with Purá, the only adult male in the five-member Kanoe tribe. Marcelo and Altair had sat for hours with Purá, patiently communicating with hand gestures. Eventually, an elderly Indian from the other side of Rondonia who spoke Portuguese and a related tribal language was brought in to translate the stories of Purá and his mother, Tutuá. Slowly, the team pieced together the Kanoe tribe’s grim history.

In the 1970s, when the group numbered about 50, all of the tribe’s adult males ventured out of their tiny village together in search of different Indian groups in the hope of arranging marriages. After several days, the men didn’t return, so a small group of women formed a search party. They found the men massacred, killed by unknown assailants. The women panicked, convinced they couldn’t survive and care for their children on their own. So they made a pact: All of them — women and children — would drink a deadly poison derived from the timbo plant and commit collective suicide. But Purá’s mother, Tutuá, refused to swallow. As she vomited fiercely, she rid herself of the traces of poison and was able to stop her two children, her sister and her niece from sipping the fatal brew.

The tiny tribe had lived on its own for nearly two decades — until Marcelo and Altair encountered Purá and his sister on a jungle trail in September 1995. The team members figured that if anyone could help them find the lone Indian, an Indian who had been in a similar situation until very recently might be their best bet.

Homeland Security Update

I went to the local CVS pharmacy the other day to get some cold medicine. Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, best known under the brandname Sudafed (although, as always, much cheaper in the generic store brand), has long been the preferred over-the-counter decongestant agent. Unfortunately, it is also well known as one of the most widely available precursor agents to methamphetamines. To restrict access to the large quantities of pseudoephedrine that meth brewers need, the government has recently reclassified the drug. While it is still non-prescription, it is no longer “over the counter.” Instead, when buying pseudoephedrine products, one must actually produce a state or federal ID, which is then either scanned by a barcode reader or recorded in a log book. Yes, to buy cold medicine in the United States you are now subject to almost the same level of ID check as required for boarding an airplane.

On the other hand, and this will be of most interest to fans of HBO’s The Wire, pre-paid Verizon cell phones can be had entirely anonymously, with no ID check whatsoever, for roughly $70 cash.

Fun Fact – Sazae-san is a better indicator of Japanese stock performance than the US

In my new job I deal a lot with the stock market. Here is one fun fact I learned at work:

Sazae-san is a better indicator of Japanese stock performance than the US

Sazae-san (episodic story of a quirky but happy Japanese family, sort of like the Simpsons but more like Leave it to Beaver in the execution) has been the top-rated animated TV show in Japan for almost 40 years. A Daiwa Institute of Research study showed that there is a 0.86 correlation coefficient between Sazae-san viewership and TOPIX movements. This is even higher than the correlation between TOPIX and the NYSE composite index, even though the US markets are supposed to be one of the main drivers of Tokyo trading.

The explanation for this phenomenon is that people tend to go out on Sundays when the stock market is booming and people have money to spend and stay home to watch Sazae-san when it’s slumping and everyone is broke.

Now, just because there is a correlation, that doesn’t mean that you should break into Video Research (the Japanese ratings house) on Sunday night to plan your Monday morning trades. At any rate, if you want to read this theory in detail it is available in paperback.