A ruin in Taichung

Taiwan is full of Japanese style wooden houses leftover from the colonial period, but most of them are vacant, rotting hulks. There was one such house behind my apartment building when I lived in Taipei, which I posted two very nice photos of here and here. I was told (by Michael Turton) that this is largely due to the fact that insurance companies will not sell coverage for these wooden houses, and few are willing to live in an uninsured home.

While wandering around Taichung (in fact, just a day or so after visiting Michael at his home in that same city) I happened across this ruin and wandered around inside with my camera. Here are the photos.

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I recommend using the flash slideshow in fullscreen mode for best resolution, or you can go to the Flickr page directly. Note that the pig was not actually inside the ruin, but tied up out front of a nearby shop.

Update: I should mention that it was late at night, and these photos were taken with available light and extremely long exposures. My zoom lense was broken at the time, so all of them are with a 50mm lens (1.6x crop factor). The camera is a Canon EOS 300D, which is aging fast and desparately needs to be replaced.

I am making a fictitious investment in $43 oil

NYMEX oil prices are currently $42.96. I have decided to place my fictional life savings ($10,000) to buy approx. 233 barrels of oil in the spot market. Let’s see how this fictional fee-and-tax-free portfolio does over time.

Simultaneously, my fictional friend Dork Yenbuyer has decided to place his life savings (also $10,000) in uninvested, no-interest yen cash. At the current rate, that will give him 898,100 yen. Let’s see if the superyen will go even stronger, contrary to today’s weakening of the yen against the euro.

American democracy at work

I mentioned earlier I have some issues with the way Japan’s voting system works, but this leave’s me speechless.

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I’m sure the whole thing is legally justified and all that, but still. “I move to allocate this ballot to lizard people.” Wow.

How different, really?

Thomas P. Barnett says the institutionally entrenched bureaucracy in federal agencies is more powerful than the leaders who take over for short terms when we elect new politicians.

There is the assumption that it’s the political appointees who run things or change things or are the real power players in DC. My experience has always been that the real power in DC is the persistent class of senior bureaucrats just below the political level. The appointees typically last about 12-to-18 months, getting up to speed for most of that period and–maybe–having some actual impact if they’re quite focused in their goals. Otherwise they come and go, leaving nary a trace. They may think they run things and we may hold them ultimately responsible, but the truth is they’re more powerless than powerful.

The dominance of the bureaucracy over the elected officials and their direct appointees has been a mainstay of just about all English-language coverage of Japanese politics going back decades.

With discussion that Caroline Kennedy may be appointed to replace Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be vacated senate, many people (such as in this piece  by Glenn Greenwald or this one by Nicholas Kristof, who also suggests an alternate and more qualified woman) are pointing out that dynastic succession is at an all-time high in American politics. (As an aside, I think I’ll take a policy in the future of never supporting any dynastic candidate. I was disgusted in 2000 when GWB made it to the nomination based on no other qualifications than his father. I was disgusted when Hillary Clinton won her seat based on the political influence of her former president husband, which is one of the reasons that led me to prefer Obama early on.) Joe Biden tried to get his son to replace him, Jesse Jackson Jr. is a leading candidate in Illinois (to be fair, his father wasn’t an office holder so it’s more of a celeb issue than legacy per se) and Greenwald points out that “at least 15 current U.S. Senators — 15 — with immediate family members who previously occupied high elected office.”

In Japan, legacy politicians are such a fact of life that the standard Japanese language Wikipedia template for Diet members actually has a field to list how far back their political dynasty goes. Here’s one example, listing a third-generation legacy.

And finally, the American financial crisis is being repeatedly compared with the Japanese crisis of the 1990s, and any number of sources are pointing to Japan’s response as either a model to follow or a model to avoid like the plague. And overnight, blatant state corporatist control of industrial policy ala MITI has gone from anathema to conventional wisdom.

All of which raises three possibilities.

A) Differences between the American system and the Japanese system have been historically exaggerated.

B) The systems are becoming more similar.

C) Current similarities are being overblown.


Taiwanese aborigine former comfort woman speaking in Tokyo this Fri/Sat

I should have posted a notice about the talk by a different woman here in Kyoto a couple of weeks ago, but it just didn’t occur to me even though I went to it. Anyway, here’s the info that I got through a mailing list. No point in giving the details in English since you’d need to understand Japanese (or Taroko, which is rather unlikely) to understand anyway. I’m sure there are people with all manner of views on the comfort women issue reading this, but hearing some first-hand testimony may be interesting to any of them.

Details below, for those who may wish to attend. It mentions a “texts fee” of 1000 yen, but I believe (no promises) that it is not required for admission.

Continue reading Taiwanese aborigine former comfort woman speaking in Tokyo this Fri/Sat

Chomsky on 911 Conspiracy Theories

I don’t even remember why I stumbled across this on youtube, but it’s quite good.

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His thoughts on this issue are almost 100% the same as mine, which I discussed some time ago as part of an off the cuff essay I wrote on conspiracy theories prompted by, of all things, checking up on the history of GPS.

On The Media on Kisha-clubs

National Public Radio’s always-excellent weekly show On The Media just did a great 20 minute segment on Japan’s unique press club system. The best part of the entire piece: when segment producer Mark Phillips brought up the way in which reporters and the politician or other figure they cover often exchange questions and answers making “the actual-” and this is where I quite literally braced myself to hear the word “kabuki” but instead heard “-a mere formality.” What a relief!

1905 NYC Subway footage

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This is all kinds of awesome, particularly since it looks basically the same as today. The first 5 minutes is more or less the same, but at 5:00 you can see a station full of people.

Anecdotal evidence that the “Axis of Evil” isn’t really all that tight

This weekend I had a conversation with a Zainichi-Korean girl who holds North Korean citizenship, who is studying Farsi at a university in Kansai. When her class was going on some kind of short study abroad trip last summer, she was the only person unable to go, as the Iranian Embassy would not issue a visa to a DPRK citizen not living in the DPRK.