Revenge of the nerds: Konkatsu Killer Kanae sentenced to hang

Kanae Kojima, an alleged black widow murderer, was convicted of murdering three former boyfriends and sentenced to death by hanging by a panel of professional and lay judges. I have watched the story with some interest due to her ultra-creepy trawling for victims on Internet dating sites. Her MO was to drain the men of cash and then drop them when they were of no use to her. The three she was convicted of killing were just the deaths they had the most evidence for.

I say this is “revenge of the nerds” because she would often prey on some of the more timid members of the male public, including one awkward-looking man who had a blog for his plastic models. I am a little concerned that she was convicted on essentially all circumstantial evidence, but it does seem to be a win in the name of justice for the lovelorn and downtrodden.

You don’t know them

When you see someone on TV, or read what they write on a blog or YouTube comment, you don’t know them. This sounds obvious, but judging from the volumes and volumes of discussions on the Internet, no one seems to take this to heart.

Even if you’ve watched someone’s show for years, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what this person is all about. A talk show host might be an avid hunter, or a drinker, or a plastic model kit geek, and we would never, ever know.

But so many of us demand authenticity, or at least a standard of conduct, from people in the public eye, and reserve the harshest score if they don’t measure up.

In Japan, these impulses flare up into the endless stream of ginned-up scandals. Who are we to judge Ebizo for hanging out with the wrong people? None of us knows him. Hell, I had barely heard of him before the scandal.

No one really knows Sarah Palin despite all her exposure and all the journalist profiles and behind the scenes looks. Yet everyone has an opinion about her (I’ll concede it’s somewhat necessary to assess a potential presidential candidate).

The people with influence on what goes on the news and the rest of the media know all about this and exploit our nature ruthlessly for their own ends. Our affinity for an attractive actress gets us in the door of our local Mos Burger; a finely aged oyaji tells us it’s cool to drink a certain kind of beer; and news reports convince you in a matter of seconds that a stranger is a villain who deserves to die.

This concept applies in even the most mundane aspects of showmanship. On those Japanese shows with panels of commentators, the panelists are either competing for airtime or want to keep getting asked back. What that means for you is they stop acting like they would face-to-face and start making comments that will get the most reaction from a mass audience. There are endless ways to keep track of audience reaction these days, including Twitter and 2-channel in Japan. If you can entertain, you’re doing your job.

The same goes for blogs, in a way. I am not just talking to a friend at a bar, I am writing for the “masses” (my many dozens of readers). That means I am putting my best face forward and saying things to get a reaction. Hence, you don’t know me even if you’ve been reading me from the beginning.

I’ve met some readers offline in the past. As a rule they’ve been nothing like I would imagine from their blog comments. Only after putting the two together can I really connect their offline personality to what they write online. While they are connected and an extension of the person, it’s necessarily a cross section.

TV and essentially all media are stages where people put on shows to get a desired reaction from the audience. For better or worse, the Internet has turned everyone into a media personality, so it’s only healthy to keep this in mind when going through life, and especially when reacting to blogs and reader comments.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend who shall remain anonymous because, well, you don’t know him!

Wherein one MP’s senioritis has potentially enormous consequences

The devil made him do it.

Anyone remember this story from last month?

Masatoshi Wakabayashi resigned from the Upper House on Friday after he was admonished for pressing an electronic voting button of a fellow Liberal Democratic Party member seated next to him.

The Democratic Party of Japan submitted a motion to discipline Wakabayashi, 75, a former farm minister, to the chamber on Thursday.

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki urged Wakabayashi to take responsible action Thursday to avoid causing problems ahead of the Upper House election this summer.

If you’re like me, you probably shrugged it off as a joke, a non-story. He explained in Japanese 魔が差した which means “I don’t know what got into me” but could be literally translated something like “a devil made me do it.” Wakabayashi had already announced his intention to retire at the end of the Diet session, but this has got to be the worst case of senioritis ever. A seat in the Diet is nothing to take lightly, even if you’re in the less powerful upper house.

But with the ruling coalition’s majority so thin, this is actually kind of a big deal, especially now that the DPJ/PNP/SDP ruling coalition has broken up.

This weekend, PM Hatoyama fired Mizuho Fukushima from his cabinet over their disagreement on relocating Futenma air station. In response, Fukushima’s Social Democratic Party decided to quit the coalition. This development probably has some serious implications for PM Hatoyama, but for this post I just want to focus on how it affects the coalition’s standing in the Diet as the session nears its end.

This shrinks the DPJ/PNP’s upper house majority shrink to just two seats right at the end of the legislative session. The coalition is currently rushing to pass bills that would alter the course of reforming Japan Post, among some other initiatives aimed at the election in July.

With 122 seats together, the coalition now has a thin two-seat majority. However, it would have been even smaller one seat majority if Wakabayashi were still around.

I have no special information on the state of Diet negotiations and debate, but a one-seat majority can have all sorts of potential consequences. One situation I could think of is the American Democrats’ “super-majority” in 2009 as they tried to pass health care reform. Basically, any upper house member could have threatened to defect, delay, or vote against the party to extract some concessions.

But now that they don’t have to worry about such annoyances, the DPJ should probably call Wakabayashi to thank him (or maybe Tanigaki for pressuring him to quit).

Since he was elected in a prefectural district (Nagano) instead of proportional representation and there is not enough time to hold a special election, it seems that according to the rules Wakabayashi’s seat will remain open until the upcoming election in July.

(Thanks to Curzon for the idea)

Adam J. Richards disappointed in court decision in favor of Borat

From Bloomberg:

News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox Film won an appeals-court ruling affirming the dismissal of three lawsuits filed by people who claimed they were emotionally harmed by appearing in the “Borat” movie.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld the dismissals from last year in an order today. People who appeared in the film, including those in a dinner-party scene in which the protagonist presents a bag of feces, also sued for fraud and unjust enrichment, according to the ruling. They argued the ambiguity of “documentary-style film” in signed releases meant the lower court couldn’t rely on them to dismiss the litigation.

“While the character ‘Borat’ is fictional, the film unmistakably tells the story of his travels in the style of a traditional, fact-based documentary,” the appeals court wrote. “Indeed, the film’s stylistic similarity to the straight documentary form is among its central comedic conceits, employed to set the protagonist’s antics in high relief.”

“It’s disappointing,” Adam J. Richards, a lawyer for six of the seven plaintiffs, said of the ruling in a phone interview. “It allows well-financed parties such as Twentieth Century Fox to outright lie to people and rely on, in my opinion, an ambiguously worded document to get by the lies.”

The appeals court found the plaintiffs couldn’t claim the filmmakers fraudulently induced them into signing the releases because they didn’t try to verify what they were told by, for example, asking to meet the “reporter” or learn his name.

“They would have lied to him,” Levine said of his client Psenicska. “To use clear language like ‘mock documentary’ or ‘mockumentary’ would have given the game away. They were clearly trying to use obsfucation.”

While I agree that the plaintiffs should have maybe had a little common sense before jumping in front of the camera, I really hope Sasha Baron Cohen remains the only one making these obviously subversive movies. They work, but only because the makers are doing things everyone knows are completely wrong.

New DPJ cabinet is almost totally awesome

First, the bad news. Shizuka Kamei has been appointed minister of postal issues and financial services. The man is a fierce, fierce fighter who likes to dredge up personal scandals using his ties as a former police official. That’s probably how he got the job. Now he’s going to make sure Japan Post remains the world’s biggest and possibly worst-managed bank and he’s going to crush regional banks by allowing all the people they lended money to stop paying for three years. Great.

As I just commented over at Observing Japan’s assessment of the new lineup, I hope Kamei simply collapses under his own weight. He may well overreach in a position that gives him barely any authority at all. If any place should be safe from unwise political meddling, it’s the FSA which has SEC-like regulatory and law enforcement authority over all financial services institutions.

Otherwise, not a bad lineup. Though Time Magazine posits Ozawa as a “shadow shogun” (reflecting the “Ozawa is the real one in charge” theme trotted out by both Nikkei and Yomiuri, who are wary of a DPJ administration) the cabinet reflects a wide sampling from the party including people not so close to Ozawa, like finance minister Hirohisa Fujii who was an early voice calling for Ozawa to step down over the Nishimatsu political funds scandal.

Asahi had an interesting section listing some of the human side of each new minister. I reproduce some of it here:

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has a giant frog collection. I have heard it from an eyewitness that it’s really huge. Not sure if any of them are mutant.

The above-mentioned Kamei Shizuka is a sixth-degree black belt in aikido and has held exhibitions of his oil paintings.

Naoto Kan, head of the National Strategy Bureau, was DPJ president in 2004 when he was going after LDP politicians for failing to pay into the national pension system (a duty for all residents in Japan, including yours truly). When it was found that Kan himself failed to make his payments, he was forced to resign in shame. To get over the shock of the whole series of events, he decided to shave his head and make the traditional pilgrimage to 88 Buddhist temples in Shikoku.

Justice minister Keiko “Sonny” Chiba (not really her nickname) is a former Socialist Party member who’s against the death penalty, for dual citizenship, and pro letting women choose whether to take their husband’s names when they get married. The trifecta of policies I’ve been waiting for! There is no news that the DPJ plans to abolish the death penalty, but for the time being this election appears to have saved the life of Shoko Asahara, Tokyo subway sarin attack mastermind and Japan’s most famous blind cult leader/death row inmate (and my neighbor at nearby Tokyo Detention Center).

Social Democratic Party leader and consumer affairs, birthrate, and gender equality minister Mizuho Fukushima is not only a lawyer and former TV commentator, she is a huge Miyazaki fan and serves as a judge to select the Nikkan Sports film prizes, the top honors of which in 2007 went to “Even So, I Still Didn’t Do It” about a man wrongly accused of train groping.

Hirotaka Akamatsu, agricultural minister, was once a flight attendant in the 70s. One flight was hijacked by the PLO and he had to help negotiate with the terrorists in English.

Administrative reform minister Yoshito Sengoku had his stomach removed in 2002 due to cancer.

These two didn’t make it into the cabinet (this time), but I think it’s safe to say DPJ upper house member Ren Ho (who Ikeda Nobuo thinks would make a good press secretary) and “cosplay erotica writer” turned newly elected DPJ lower house member Mieko Tanaka are the two best-looking women in the Diet right now:

Ren Ho Tanaka 850745001

Handle with care, indeed.

Amazing expose on internet “pranksters” from The Smoking Gun

I direct all MFT readers to read this amazing, detailed expose from The Smoking Gun identifying and incriminating the the denizens of “Pranknet” an online community of highly destructive and juvenile practical jokers, whose exploits include the following:

Late on the evening of February 10, a call to Room 306 at the Best Western in Shillington, Pennsylvania roused a sleeping traveler. Jonathan Davis at the front desk was calling with scary news: A ruptured gas line was threatening hotel guests, some of whom were already feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

Noting that he was following a “protocol sheet,” Davis instructed the male guest that he needed to quickly unplug all electrical devices and place wet towels at the base of the room’s door to keep carbon monoxide from entering the space. After the guest took those precautions, Davis then directed him to bust out a 5′ x 5′ section of window. The man, who happened to be a glazier, asked, “Are you serious?” When Davis urgently assured him that the drastic measure was required for his safety, the guest replied that he would put on clothes and “bust this fucker.”

Using a chair, the guest then smashed a window. As broken glass cascaded into the room, Davis then advised that the television screen would need to broken since the tube contained an electrical charge that could spark an explosion. Davis suggested the use of the toilet tank cover to disable the television. But when the guest threw the porcelain lid at the TV, it broke. So Davis directed the man to toss the set out the window. Stepping gingerly around glass shards, the guest complied.

At this point, Davis’s supervisor, Jeff Anderson, joined the call and determined that the guests in 306 had co-workers in the adjoining room. Anderson then called Room 304 and advised the man answering the phone to “remain calm.” He told the guest of the gas leak and advised him of the safety measures that had already been followed next door. The man in 304 also unplugged electrical devices, placed wet towels at the door, smashed a window, and tossed the television to the sidewalk below. Anderson then directed the guest to pull the fire alarm. As a siren wailed, the guest asked Anderson, “Can we get out of this motel? Why can’t we just leave the building?” He had previously remarked, “I hope this ain’t some kind of joke.”

This is a really impressive investigation. The author writes with a well-deserved satisfied tone and seems to almost taunt the Pranknet members with his ability to expose them. Do yourself a favor and spend the next half hour reading through it and listening to some of the calls. You’ll see what a public service it is to hopefully stop these people.

Anti-tax protesters: Yes you CAN borrow your way out of debt!

One placard at the moronic (but apparently well-attended!) anti-tax “tea party” protests reads “You can’t borrow your way out of debt,” and that just floors me, because it just isn’t true and I have the experience to prove it.

After coming back from a high school exchange in Japan and attending a semester of community college, I suddenly decided that I needed to get out of Connecticut and transfer to a four-year univserity as soon as possible. A combination of a lack of preparation, a burning need to get out of my hometown, and plain ignorance of how money works led me to forego cheaper options and attend a private university funded almost entirely on student debt (in a ratio of around 75% variable rate private debt and 25% fixed rate direct federal borrowing). At the end of it I was many tens of thousands of dollars in the hole, but today less than 4 years later I am two months away from being debt-free, all thanks to “borrowing my way out.”

At the end of my education I had a degree in “International Relations” – essentially a liberal arts program.  I left the system without much in the way of skills, but college did give me two things that would come in very handy later on – a bona fide college degree and the time and impetus to dedicate to accumulating knowledge (a good portion of which came through classwork) and compulsively studying Japanese, all without any immediate need to make ends meet.

But without any directly marketable skills and no immediate job prospects, I stayed afloat in Washington DC after graduation through multiple part-time jobs (at one point I was working for four separate companies), occasional parental assistance, and deficit spending with one of those “pre-approved” credit cards they were always sending me back then. I also deferred my student loan repayment to the last possible moment, a decision that added another $10,000 in piled-on interest by the time I started paying.

But I kept at my jobs and eventually landed a gig translating for a law firm. Though I already had some translation skills before starting (documented in early MF posts!), the office experience, from the basic administrative duties of a “legal assistant” to keeping up with the high-paced research activities of my boss, was a very uphill learning curve, and the salary was just barely enough to survive on and pay a $1000 a month minimum payment.

But I somehow managed to stay afloat, and while I left that firm to follow Mrs. Adamu to Thailand, I continued working and improving as a freelance translator. When I eventually made my way to Japan, I easily landed a much better paying job (at a time when the JPY-USD exchange rate was at its most favorable in a decade) that put me on the path out of debt bondage.

So by dint of this experience I know that with a little luck knowing how to learn from people and ask for and accept help, perseverence, development, and talent can end up paying big dividends, as long as you are willing to invest in yourself. My own experience was not ideal as I made some “bad” decisions initially (though I do not regret the path my life took since otherwise there would be no Mrs. Adamu), but then neither is this recession. While many representing the underdeveloped economies argue for sustainable growth free from major-power exploitation, America has been in the grip of the “cult of progress” for more than a century. Our future prosperity is tied to economic growth, so in the bad times we seek to limit the downside through deficit spending and a series of debt rollovers. 

I wonder if any of the protesters have had similar experiences. Perhaps it is tough to relate big, nationwide events to everyday life, but I am shocked that so many are ready to throw common sense to the wind and buy into idiotic catch phrases no doubt orchestrated by Astro Turfers who view them as nothing more than pawns that are useful to serving an end entirely removed from the actual protesters’ interests. There is nothing explicitly liberal or offensive about public works spending, so it doesn’t make sense to oppose in such and ugly and kneejerk way just because it doesn’t come from the right wing’s preferred sectors like the military. And Obama’s budgeting actually improves the tax burden of most families. It is really hard for me to understand people like the “Obama is a fascist BECAUSE HE IS!!!!” guy:


But perhaps Matt Taibbi has it right when he calls these people the peasant class, always ready to hate an external enemy rather than face their own lots in life:

The really irritating thing about these morons is that, guaranteed, not one of them has ever taken a serious look at the federal budget. Not one has ever bothered to read an actual detailed study of what their taxes pay for. All they do is listen to one-liners doled out by tawdry Murdoch-hired mouthpieces like Michelle Malkin and then repeat them as if they’re their own opinions five seconds later. That’s what passes for political thought in this country. Teabag on, you fools.

From another article:

After all, the reason the winger crowd can’t find a way to be coherently angry right now is because this country has no healthy avenues for genuine populist outrage. It never has. The setup always goes the other way: when the excesses of business interests and their political proteges in Washington leave the regular guy broke and screwed, the response is always for the lower and middle classes to split down the middle and find reasons to get pissed off not at their greedy bosses but at each other. That’s why even people like Beck’s audience, who I’d wager are mostly lower-income people, can’t imagine themselves protesting against the Wall Street barons who in actuality are the ones who fucked them over. Beck pointedly compared the AIG protesters to Bolsheviks: “[The Communists] basically said ‘Eat the rich, they did this to you, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” He then said the AIG and G20 protesters were identical: “It’s a different style, but the sentiments are exactly the same: Find ‘em, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” Beck has an audience that’s been trained that the rich are not appropriate targets for anger, unless of course they’re Hollywood liberals, or George Soros, or in some other way linked to some acceptable class of villain, to liberals, immigrants, atheists, etc. — Ted Turner, say, married to Jane Fonda.

But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.

Least relevant front-page headline ever?

As of this morning, this is what I see as the bottom headline of’s top stories:

ペイリン氏、娘の元婚約者と応酬 「うそつき」「売名」(03:03)

Palin arguing with daughter’s ex-fiance: “Liar,” “Self-promoter”

 I just don’t see this story as worthy of the Asahi’s status as the 2nd most read newspaper nationwide and the paper of record for the center-left elites. I mean, it’s true that some of Tokyo Governor Ishihara’s more controvertial statements get coverage in Western media, but how in the world does this completely inconsequential Jerry Springer segment matter to any but the readers of Josei Seven, Japan’s equivalent of the National Enquirer?

UPDATE: Well, I guess if the New York Times is sinking to that level, the Asahi was just following suit.

Dubai’s downfall just as spectacular as its rise

NYT has a report on the situation in Dubai:

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.

The government says the real number is much lower. But the stories contain at least a grain of truth: jobless people here lose their work visas and then must leave the country within a month. That in turn reduces spending, creates housing vacancies and lowers real estate prices, in a downward spiral that has left parts of Dubai — once hailed as the economic superpower of the Middle East — looking like a ghost town.

“Why is Abu Dhabi allowing its neighbor to have its international reputation trashed, when it could bail out Dubai’s banks and restore confidence?” said Christopher M. Davidson, who predicted the current crisis in “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success,” a book published last year. “Perhaps the plan is to centralize the U.A.E.” under Abu Dhabi’s control, he mused, in a move that would sharply curtail Dubai’s independence and perhaps change its signature freewheeling style.

But Dubai, unlike Abu Dhabi or nearby Qatar and Saudi Arabia, does not have its own oil, and had built its reputation on real estate, finance and tourism. Now, many expatriates here talk about Dubai as though it were a con game all along. Lurid rumors spread quickly: the Palm Jumeira, an artificial island that is one of this city’s trademark developments, is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out.

Also, check this video from German TV (in English, via The Big Picture):